Local petroleum and petrochemical products manufacturer African Oil Blending Corporation (AOBC) has secured about R130-million to repurpose and upgrade its Harrismith lubricant blending production facilities, in the Free State, pivoting to manufacture water-based and monoethylene glycol- (MEG-) based coolants for the automotive and industrial sectors in South Africa and wider sub-Saharan Africa.
AOBC CEO Franck Naidoo tells Engineering News that the repurposed and upgraded plant will be ready to begin manufacturing coolants by the first quarter of next year.
AOBC is a broad-based black economic empowerment Level 1 contributor, and this has enabled the company to qualify for R50-million through the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition’s Black Industrialist Scheme.
The move to manufacture coolants comes on the back of an alliance formed with a multinational chemicals manufacturer, which develops various chemical compounds, including coolants, brake fluids and AdBlue exhaust fluid for a variety of markets globally. The AOBC plant will be upgraded to meet the multinational chemicals manufacturer’s benchmarks for coolant manufacturing so that the product can be manufactured locally.
The two main coolants available in this range, which is developed by the multinational chemicals manufacturer and which AOBC will manufacture locally, include a premium coolant product which comprises a low silicate, organic additive, MEG-based, extended service product, which are phosphate-, borate-, nitrite- and amine-free; and a second coolant that possesses similar properties, except that it is water-based.
A technical bulletin on water-based coolants issued by the multinational chemicals manufacturer says “water is the singularly most effective cooling fluid known to mankind. Its performance in this regard has been acknowledged for centuries and is primary to why and how we cool off our own bodies”.
South Africa is a good location for water-based corrosion inhibitor products such as coolants, as ambient temperatures seldom drop below 0 ºC, consequently resulting in the freezing point of water not being a concern. Rather, the criterion of anti-boil, otherwise known as boil-over protection, is where MEG provides a performance enhancement. A 50% solution of MEG and water will have a boiling point of 105.8 ºC, which is 5.8 ºC higher than the boiling point of pure water. This increase in boiling point is often cited as a reason in hot climates to continue using MEG-based coolants, Naidoo comments.
The downside of adding 50% MEG to water is that the viscosity increases by as much as seven-fold, which requires the pump to circulate the fluid up to 16% faster than it would with pure water to achieve the same cooling effect – a significant loss in terms of energy efficiency.
In South Africa, oil and gas companies aim to move increasingly towards reducing dependence on chemistries and products derived from fossil fuels, and are, therefore, driving the development of water-based coolant compounds instead.
“This is good for AOBC, because we want to pursue more sustainable solutions, and water-based coolants are an attractive product for us, which will cause a disruption in the market,” says Naidoo, noting that the water-based variant will also be significantly more cost effective for the consumer.
Local Water-based Coolants
With water-based coolants currently not widely used in South Africa, Naidoo expects that much technical education and marketing of the product will be needed to ensure large-scale buy-in, punting the benefits of lower emissions. Additionally, AOBC will also manufacture AdBlue, a product mandated by European manufacturers of heavy duty engines.
Moreover, these new coolant products will face off against entrenched brands in the local market. Factors such brand loyalty, brand comfort and brand awareness will, therefore, have to be considered in the marketing drive, he says.
AOBC and its multinational alliance partners will endeavour to engage with credible media, mining, manufacturing, construction, agriculture, commercial road transport, public transport, franchise workshops and mass retail as part of the market education strategy. AOBC is also entering the gas fray, as refrigerated vehicles test greener options.
Given the pandemic and its effects on South Africa, the new range of the water-based and MEG-based coolant variants are being manufactured in the Middle East and then imported into South Africa. However, once AOBC’s upgraded and repurposed production facilities are functioning, the coolants will be blended and supplied locally, enhancing employment targets. Strategically situated in the special economic zone of Maluti-a-Phofung, AOBC is a significant contributor to one of the poorest parts of the country.
Naidoo says that South Africa consumes about 290-million litres a year of lubricants and related petrochemical compounds. About 8% of that market volume consists of coolants, which is an attractive and relatively underexploited sector, as it pertains to local coolant manufacturing.
The country has not been home to next-generation coolant technology for more than 20 years since petrochemicals company Shell phased out their coolant product in the late 1990s, which makes the market ideal for the introduction of the new range of coolants.
In 2016, AOBC produced brake fluids and coolants for Italian oil and gas company Eni and Singaporean mid- and down-stream oil company Puma Energy. The company also focuses on the training of graduate interns for the renewable-energy sector.
AOBC will continue to manufacture greases and other petroleum-based speciality products alongside its coolant manufacturing activities.