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Zimbabwe seeks to extract diesel from coal

by Staff reporter
05 Nov 2019 at 06:41hrs | Views
Zimbabwe is working on the possible production of diesel from its vast untapped coal resources in the Zambezi Valley, with the first feasibility study expected at the end of the month.

Although no timeline has been made public as to how long it might take to establish structures or what direct or indirect conversion process would be used, the Government thinks it is one of the solutions to the country's future energy needs. However, high levels of investment will be needed and it is likely to take several years before refineries are commissioned.

If both potential investments are viable, then Zimbabwe could in time replace half of its imported diesel with synthetic fuels, similar to what Sasol does in South Africa. There are different approaches to producing oil from coal, with some technologies now more than 100-years-old.

While South Africa with Sasol is the world leader, there are now companies using different technologies in China, the United States and Germany.

Sasol has a lot of experience in using the indirect Fischer-Tropsch process which has the advantage of producing low sulphur diesel fuel, narrowing the cost gap with diesel refined from crude oil.

South Africa invested heavily in Sasol during the apartheid era to combat potential oil sanctions and to improve its balance of payments. In a presentation to legislators last week during a 2020 pre-National Budget seminar in Victoria Falls, Mines and Mining Development Minister Winston Chitando said the two investments were in line with the Government's roadmap for attainment of a US$12 billion mining industry by 2023 although the required investment was not included in that total.

"What we have not included in this scenario (US$12 billion mining economy) is the drive to produce (fuel) liquids from coal and secondly the opportunities from (petroleum) oil.

"In terms of the liquids from coal, we actually do have one of the companies, which is finalising a bankable feasibility study to be able to produce 600 million litres of diesel and that bankable feasibility study will be ready by the end of November," he said.

A feasibility study is regarded as bankable if it has been prepared in enough detail and with enough objectivity that the company could submit it to investors or lenders when seeking funding for the project.

Minister Chitando said 600 million litres of diesel were enough to meet a third of Zimbabwe's annual requirements. He said another company was working on a pre-feasibility study to produce 400 million litres of diesel from coal.

"So, from coal alone, Zimbabwe should be able to produce more than half of its requirements of diesel, but it's not incorporated in here," said Minister Chitando.

"We have also not incorporated in here the issue of the oil and the opportunities, which are coming from there; suffice to say that the drilling of the oil well will commence next year at a cost of US$20 million."

The minister was referring to geological findings at Muzarabani where it has now been established that domes that could hold oil and gas have been found in sedimentary layers, but that a well must be drilled to see if the petroleum products are actually still present.

The geology is promising, but there is no guarantee that this geology has trapped natural gas and crude oil. He said there was no question about the attainment of the US$12 billion mining industry, which should be achieved through: annual gold deliveries of 100 tonnes that will generate US$4 billion; chrome, nickel and steel a combined US$1 billion; coal and hydro-carbons another US$1 billion; lithium is expected to bring in US$500 million; platinum US$3 billion and the rest of minerals US$1,5 billion.

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Source - the herald