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It's not rocket science - Botswana on Sasol-like synfuels

Mbongeni Mguni

Botswana plans to follow in the footsteps of Sasol in introducing coal-to-liquid fuel technology while the chemical giant turns its focus to gas.

Botswana's chamber of mines is pushing the governments of Botswana and Namibia to expedite the construction of the 1 500-kilometre Trans-Kalahari railway. (Monirul Bhuiyan)

Botswana will consider setting up a coal-to-liquid fuels industry to exploit the southern African country’s resources and cut its annual import bill by about 3-billion pula ($338-million), the chamber of mines said.

“It’s not rocket science,” Charles Siwawa, chief executive of the Botswana Chamber of Mines, said on Wednesday in an interview in Gaborone, where he is attending a conference on resources.

The chamber, along with the ministry of minerals and Botswana Investment and Trade Centre, will conduct a feasibility study over the next two years for the project, which would boost industries from fertilizers to plastics, Siwawa said. He cited South Africa’s Sasol, the world’s biggest maker of motor fuels from coal, as the benchmark for any initiative.

“We’ve taken a strategic decision not to pursue any new coal-to-liquids opportunities,” Alex Anderson, a spokesperson for Johannesburg-based Sasol, said by phone. “Our focus is purely on gas liquids.” Sasol, which produces more than 40% of South Africa’s motor fuel, uses coal-to-fuel technology first employed by Nazi scientists and refined by apartheid-era engineers.

Botswana has an estimated coal resources of more than 200-billion metric tonnes and plans to ship 115-million tonnes of the fuel per year within a decade to meet growing demand in China and India. Siwawa said the chamber is pushing the governments of Botswana and Namibia to expedite the construction of the 1 500-kilometre Trans-Kalahari railway linking the landlocked country’s biggest coal-mining region with the port of Walvis Bay in Namibia.

Copper smelter
A March agreement between Botswana and Namibia established a jointly owned company to administer the development of the $15-billion railway line by private investors.

Botswana also plans to study the potential for adding value to its copper and iron-ore mining operations as it tries to lure foreign investors, Siwawa said.

With five copper producers in the country, there is the potential for a combined smelter that would produce copper rods for export, he said. Botswana’s iron-ore mines may be capable of supporting a steel industry, Siwawa said.– Bloomberg

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