National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Thermtron Scientific CC, Sponsor & Manager: Dr Jacobus (Kokkie) Swanepoel

Thermtron Scientific CC, Sponsor & Manager: Dr Jacobus (Kokkie) Swanepoel

Innovation requires more than scientific-technical know-how — it also requires passion, vision and a good strong dose of determination. Dr Jacobus Swanepoel (known as Kokkie) has all of these in bucketloads, having worked for more than 27 years in the energy and minerals beneficiation fields under the umbrella of the company Thermtron. 

In his career so far, Swanepoel has been the project sponsor and manager for more than 250 projects, transitioning mineral processing and green technologies through all the stages of innovation, from laboratory state to viable projects or businesses, through all technology-readiness phases. 

In the last 10 years he decided to use the broad knowledge and contacts he had nurtured over the decades to incubate new businesses that can grow into large standalone entities, with most of them being in the new growth sectors, such as biofuels, green mobility, super magnets for electric vehicles, rare earth mineral refiners, renewable energy and hydrogen. 

 “These companies have the potential to start new industries that can provide work for many people, develop a green economy, and export South African products to the rest of the world,” he explains. “They also beneficiate South Africa’s raw materials, and I will keep on driving them to success as far as possible.” 

Swayana (Pty) Ltd, which Swanepoel views as a highlight of his career, is a biofuels business that he incubated, with its first project’s intent to produce 50 000 tonnes of bio-ethanol per annum. However, it has the potential to generate about 400 000 tonnes of bioethanol yearly from about 10 different sites in South Africa. If this is used as a blend in petrol, it will provide about 5% of the country’s petrol requirements. It has investment potential of more than R25-billion, with an annual turnover of more than R4-billion, creating 1 500 construction jobs initially over a 10-year period, and then up to 4 000 permanent jobs for the next 25 years. 

“Rare Earth Refiners (Pty) Ltd is a catalyst that can open up the beneficiation of South Africa’s rare earth mining and beneficiation industry,” he says. “It can also stimulate the local production of electric vehicles. As one of my goals, I would like to see this business being developed into the next phase —namely, full commercial production — now that the demonstration phase has been concluded.”

“The hydrogen economy is one of the biggest growing industries, and Thermtron Scientific and TSG Africa (Pty) Ltd can play a huge role in opening up this growth sector,” he says. “We want to help South Africa to become a world leader in green hydrogen and hydrogen products.” 

Swanepoel expresses enormous hope for South Africa’s future, saying: “I believe we have very good creative and skilled people in this country and there are many opportunities in the technical fields that can be implemented, if we can develop a culture of innovation.” 

“I believe we need training programmes in innovation and business development at university level, together with the technical expertise. This will give the young entrepreneurs the skill to join companies such as Thermtron Scientific and then with time, they can transition to owning their own companies, innovating new technology, and creating jobs.” “This is only the beginning — there is so much more to come!” he promises. — Kerry Haggard

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