PetroSA invests R36 million in University of the Western Cape fuel research facility
Cape Town, 27 January 2010 – PetroSA, South Africa’s National Oil Company (NOC), today announced a substantial R36 million sponsorship to establish a Synthetic Fuels Research Facility at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
The funding will provide for the construction of a laboratory to house a pilot plant size reactor for the study of the conversion of olefins to distillate (COD), which has proven to be an essential part of the intricate Gas-To-Liquids (GTL) process.
South Africa and PetroSA, in particular, are pioneers and world leaders in the development of GTL technologies. PetroSA owns and operates one of the world's largest GTL plants in Mossel Bay, and the largest COD plant in the world. COD technology is recognized throughout the world for producing some of the ‘cleanest’ fuels, through an environmentally friendly process.
The partnership will allow for research to be carried out focused on increasing the efficiency of the conversion of olefins to diesel fuel and improving the quality of diesel. PetroSA’s COD process contributes to South Africa’s liquid fuel supply. The COD process produces unique hydrocarbons in the speciality fuels and solvents markets.
The products are low in aromatic (smelly) content, allowing for applications in speciality indoor fuels and biodegradable drilling fluids.
PetroSA will relocate a significant part of its COD research activities from the present site at the Mossel Bay refinery to UWC. The five-year research programme will be located at UWC’s South African Institute for Advanced Materials Chemistry (SAIAMC).
The SAIAMC has a track record of world class research and development to support the energy sector. It has recently been designated by the Department of Science and Technology as a hub for the development of the Hydrogen Economy. The sponsorship commences in April 2010.
Jorn Falbe, PetroSA’s Vice-President: New Ventures – Midstream, said the sponsorship allowed the NOC an opportunity to produce unique speciality products while maintaining its leadership in the COD technology.
“Olefins represent a vital energy resource for South Africa and for the African continent as a whole thus the identification and monetization of suitable alternative olefinic COD feedstock by PetroSA is a major national interest,” Falbe said.
The value adding chain from natural gas discovery through GTL and COD conversion is a knowledge intensive process involving technological skills of the highest order. The knowledge and skills required involve human capital educated at Masters and Doctoral levels. Thus PetroSA and UWC have common interests in promoting and supporting research and training in all areas relating to the production of synthetic fuels.
Brian O’Connell, the rector of UWC, said South Africa is faced with enormous challenges with regard to developing the human capital required to meet the needs of knowledge based industries. He added that it was the joint responsibility of government, industry and universities to seek innovative ways of implementing programmes which meet these challenges.
“The University of the Western Cape has not only the scholarship and expertise to develop such programmes but is itself an historically disadvantaged institution drawing a majority of its student intake from those communities most in need,” O’Connell said.
“The new agreement adds impetus towards the development of a strategic partnership between PetroSA and UWC. Central to that vision is the concept of an anchor project around which further collaboration can grow,” he added.
COD technology is already a priority area of research and development for PetroSA, in particular the adaptation of the process to new feed-stocks and catalysts.
The rationale for the establishment of a COD research facility at UWC is that there already exists expertise in catalysis research and gas conversion technology at the SAIAMC, although not specifically in COD. Thus initially the COD facility at UWC will be staffed by PetroSA employees who will transfer their knowledge and skills to both staff and students.
From its inception the COD research facility will be actively involved with student projects at both Masters and Doctoral levels, thus realizing the vision of human capital development in this economically vital area of knowledge.
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