VAAL INDUSTRIAL & BUSINESS GUIDE
Sasol Technology Research & Development
The development of the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process for converting coal to synthetic fuels was one of the great technical breakthroughs of the 20th century. Sasol acquired the rights to the technology, producing its first synthetic fuel in 1955. Now Sasol has the most extensive experience worldwide in the application of FT technology on a commercial scale, resulting in huge improvements in synfuel and chemical yields. More importantly, these advances have led to the unlocking of a treasure chest of synthetic fuels and their derivatives. The original FT technology involved the gasification of coal to hydrogen and carbon monoxide which, when placed in contact with powdered iron catalyst in a reactor, produced synthetic fuels. Advances in technology have allowed Sasol to use natural gas (rather than coal) as a feedstock and has resulted in the production of cleaner fuels.
As the industrialised world makes policies to protect the environment, emission control regulations on vehicles in Europe and the US have become increasingly stringent. Europe currently allows a sulphur content of 50 parts a million, a level which the US will reduce further to 15 parts per million by 2007. Synthetic fuels are a lot cleaner than normal fuel because the FT process requires that all traces of sulphur, one of the chief pollutants, are removed. With legislative pressures bearing down on it, the global petroleum industry has at last woken up to the enormous potential of synthetic fuel.