Sasol takes the technological lead

01 May 2006 00:00  [Source: ICB]

South Africa’s Sasol is looking to significantly increase productivity in its gas-to-liquids (GTL) and coal-to-liquids (CTL) technologies. ‘We believe that in the medium to longer term it will be possible to double the production capacity that can be achieved in a reactor with similar dimensions to our current commercial design,’ says Sven Godorr, Sasol’s manager for process research. The company is building a Rand200m ($32.7m /€26.9m) innovative Fischer-Tropsch design reactor at its R&D facilities in Sasolburg. The reactor will support the engineering design of the next generation of Fischer-Tropsch reactors for the company’s GTL and CTL technologies.

‘The new reactor will be used to test various design changes and more aggressive process conditions that will allow larger amounts of synthesis gas to be converted into waxy syncrude, thus significantly increasing capacity,’ said Godorr. The 500 bbl/day reactor will allow a range of different configurations to be tested and optimised.

The reactor should be commissioned by the end of October 2006, with the first test runs planned for early 2007. ‘This research design reactor will assist Sasol in achieving significantly higher productivity in terms of gas throughput and product conversion rates. It will also support our quest to continuously lower the capital cost of the GTL process and improve operational efficiency, while also allowing us to test some novel reactor configurations,’ adds Sasol chief executive Pat Davies. It may be possible to incorporate improvements in existing plants to increase capacity and efficiency.

Sasol technology is being licensed in Qatar and Nigeria (see box). In addition, Sasol is currently engaged in a pre-feasibility study for an Australian GTL venture. As far as CTL is concerned, the company has recently completed a pre-feasibility study in China and is now in discussions about developing the second phase feasibility study. It is also evaluating CTL opportunities in the US.

Sasol sees GTL and CTL technologies as key growth drivers. ‘We believe that GTL fuels will in time develop to become an efficient and widely used alternative or supplement to conventional diesel fuel. The world has vast resources of remote natural gas – an estimated 2600 trillion ft3 and Sasol, through its advanced technology, is at the leading edge of developing a global GTL business,’ says Davies. He adds that energy security and the cost of oil makes the coal-to-liquids route more attractive and viable to coal-rich countries such as the US, China and India.

Davies says a typical world-scale CTL plant would have a 80 000 bbl/day nominal capacity – producing 66% diesel and 34% naphtha and LPG while consuming 15–19m tonne/year of coal. The main challenge for the second generation of reactors lies in driving down the capital investment required to install a given plant capacity. By maximising the production that can be achieved in a single reactor train and integrating this efficiently into the rest of the process, Sasol believes that substantial reductions in cost can be achieved. ¦


Sasol, originally the South African Coal, Oil and Gas Corporation, was set up in 1947 with the sole purpose of establishing a coal-to-liquids industry to protect South Africa against increasing oil imports. In 1955 the world’s first commercial scale synthetic fuels plant, Sasol One, started at Sasolburg. The plant used a combination of German fixed-bed and US fluidised-bed Fischer-Tropsch technologies, together with German Lurgi coal gasification technology for the production of synthetic petrol, diesel, other liquid fuels and chemical feedstock from coal.

More recently, Sasol has been exploring international opportunities for gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology based on its Slurry Phase Distillate (SPD) Fischer-Tropsch technology. This process technology allows the production of high-quality, environmentally-friendly diesel and other higher-value hydrocarbons from natural gas.

Sasol also has a joint venture with Qatar Petroleum, Oryx GTL, which will produce 34 000 bbl/day of liquid fuel at Ras Laffan, Qatar, in the second quarter of 2006. In Nigeria, Sasol has provided the technology and risk-based finance for Escravos GTL.

In October 2000, the company teamed up with Chevron to form SasolChevron, a 50:50 joint venture founded on GTL technology. SasolChevron is responsible for gas-to-liquid ventures based on the Sasol Slurry Phase Distillate process, and the marketing of their products, such as environmentally-friendly, sulphur-free fuels.

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