Petrochemicals giant Sasol celebrated its sixty-fifth anniversary last month. In this period of sixty-five years, the group has progressed from a pioneer in the production of oil from coal in its South African hometown of Sasolburg, in the Free State, to a global integrated energy and chemicals company, with a presence spanning 37 countries and listings on the JSE and NYSE.
Sasol was established on September 26, 1950, and started producing synthetic fuels and chemicals at the first coal-to-liquids (CTL) complex in Sasolburg, in 1955. In March of that year, the company dispatched its first product – eight drums of creosote – and, in August, Sasol achieved its first reaction at its synthol reactor.
The first five years of commercial production yielded a profit of R1.36-million, which was celebrated along with the company’s ten-year anniversary, in 1960. In 1966, the South African Gas Distribution Company – now Sasol Gas – was formed to market and distribute pipeline gas.
In 1971, National Petroleum Refiners of South Africa (Natref), a joint venture (JV) between Sasol and multinational integrated oil and gas company Total, began crude oil production at South Africa’s only inland crude oil refinery in Sasolburg. Sasol petrol, developed for Formula One motor racing, was also supplied for the first time that year.
Construction of the R2.3-billion Sasol Two complex started in 1976, subsequently leading to the establishment of the town of Secunda, which means ‘second’ in Latin. The name was chosen because it was the second town established by Sasol following Sasolburg.
In 1979, Sasol privatised and listed for the first time on the JSE.
The Sasol Two synfuels and chemicals complex was completed in 1980 and dispatched its first product, ammonia, to the fertiliser industry.
In 1982, the Sasol Three complex, a replica of the Sasol Two plant, started production. The following year, a new ammonium nitrate fertiliser company, which would become Sasol Nitro, was formed, owing to the smooth operation of the Sasol Two and Three complexes that were operating at capacity.
In 1989, Sasol commissioned its 100 bl/d Phase Distillate demonstration reactor, which was followed by the company’s Sasolburg high- purity ethanol plant coming on stream in 1990. The first Sasol Advanced Synthol reactor came on line in 1995.
At the turn of the century, Sasol investigated commercial opportunities outside South Africa, exploring investments in Malaysian ethylene and polyethylene plants, and signing an agreement with the Mozambique government to develop gas from the country’s reserves in 2000.
In 2001, Sasol acquired international chemical business Condea from Germany-based RWE-DEA for R8.3-billion. The company listed on the NYSE in 2003 and started construction of the environment-friendly gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant in Ras Laffan, Qatar.
The first natural gas from Mozambique arrived at Secunda through a cross-border pipeline in 2004, a year during which the petro- chemicals group merged with South African petroleum company Exel Petroleum, providing Sasol with access to the South African retail fuel market.
During 2006 and 2007, Sasol commissioned the company’s Oryx GTL plant in Qatar and began production. Sasol also expanded its chemicals business in China, opening an office in Shanghai to market its diverse range of chemical solvents to Asian markets. The company also announced its broad-based black eco- nomic-empowerment (BBBEE) ownership transaction – which is one of the largest to have taken place in South Africa to date.
In 2008, Sasol and its Indian partner, multinational conglomerate Tata, were awarded a coal block in India. Sasol also created its New Energy Holdings company and concluded the R24-billion Sasol Inzalo BBBEE transaction.
The following year, Sasol signed a JV with Uzbekistan State-owned oil and gas company Uzbekneftegaz and Malaysian oil and gas company Petronas for the development and implementation of a GTL project in Uzbekistan.
During 2009, Sasol also signed a memorandum of understanding with Norwegian State-owned carbon capture and storage (CCS) enterprise Gassnova to explore Sasol becoming a participant in the European Technology Centre Mongstad, the world’s largest CCS research facility. Also, Sasol Technology opened its fuel testing facility in Cape Town.
In 2010, Sasol received approval for the construction of a new ethylene purification unit in Sasolburg. Sasol Mining concluded its Ixia Coal BBBEE transaction with black- women-owned investment company Women’s Investment Portfolio Holdings. The world’s first flight using synthetic jet fuel produced by Sasol took place that same year. Also, the group’s Olefins and Surfactants business entered into the high-purity triethyl aluminium merchant market in 2010.
The following year was marked by Sasol’s 50% acquisition of Canadian multinational oil and gas company Talisman Energy’s Farrel Creek and Cypress A shale gas assets, in Canada’s Montney basin, in British Columbia. The company also partnered with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and energy corporation Chevron Nigeria to provide technical and labour support for the Escravos plant, in Nigeria.
Sasol initiated feasibility studies in 2011 for a GTL plant in western Canada, and its first US-based GTL plant at Lake Charles, in Louisiana. The company also announced its plans to build a gas-to-power energy plant in Mozambique, in partnership with State-owned Electricidade de Moçambique. Sasol also announced a JV with Australia-based integrated energy company Origin to explore coal-bed methane in Botswana.
In 2012, Sasol New Energy started construction of a 140 MW electricity generation plant in Sasolburg. The company also started with the front-end engineering and design phase of an integrated GTL facility in the US. In South Africa, the company cut the ribbon of its R1-billion limestone ammonium nitrate granu-lation plant in Secunda. It also completed a $220-million expansion programme at its central processing facility at Pande and Tamane, in Mozambique.