Sasol to build R2bn octene plant

23 January 2006

South African petrochemicals group Sasol announced last week that construction of a 100 000-ton-per-annum octene plant in Secunda in Mpumalanga province was under way.

Sasol said in a statement that the facility, scheduled to begin production during the second half of 2007, would double Sasol’s existing octene output to 200 000 tons a year. The additional capacity will be exported.

“This new facility comes on the back of growing global demand from plastics manufacturers for this hydrocarbon molecule that, among others, gives special performance features such as elasticity, flexibility, impact resistance and strength to plastic consumer products,” said Sasol deputy CE Trevor Munday.

According to Business Report, the new capacity will give Sasol control over a third of the world market for octene, with global consumption currently at about 500 000 tons a year.

Sasol did not disclose the size of the investment, or the eventual buyers of the new plant’s product. However, Business Report puts the investment at R2.1-billion, and reckons that US chemicals giant Dow Chemical is “the most obvious candidate” for the buyer.

Sasol’s current octene export destinations, according to Business Report, include Europe, the US, Argentina and Thailand.

Sasol currently operates two octene plants with a combined capacity of about 100 000 tons a year at its Secunda complex, situated approximately 150km east of Johannesburg. Its exports go via Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal.

Business Day quotes an unnamed analyst as saying that Sasol’s raw material “is a fraction of the cost of everyone else’s, which more than compensates for the location of the plant inland”.

Active in over 20 countries and on six continents, Sasol is a global player in chemicals and fuels. The company has developed world-leading technology for the commercial production of synthetic fuels and chemicals from low-grade coal as well as the conversion of natural gas to environment-friendly fuels and chemicals.

Among its products are octene and other alpha-olefins such as pentene and hexene, which are used as chemical intermediates in the production of plasticizer alcohols, polymers, polyethylene, fatty acids, detergent alcohol and lubrication oil additives.

According to Business Report, Sasol is able to separate these products from its synthetic gas feedstream, with greater yields than those achieved using traditional methods.

Octene is used in combination with hexene and pentene to engineer a host of specific characteristics – strength, thinness, elasticity, puncture resistance – in products ranging from dense and durable plastic for wire coatings, automotive interiors, raincoats and strong garbage bags to low-density, high-quality shopping bags, cling-wrap film and various other consumer plastics.

SouthAfrica.info reporter