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February 13, 2018

Volume 1 Issue 7

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Sasol Completes Wax Expansion

Sasol completed an expansion of its Fischer-Tropsch wax plant in Sasolburg, South Africa, the company announced early last week. It was the second phase of a 13.6 billion rand (U.S. $1.1 billion) project that enlarges one of the world’s largest sources of Fischer-Tropsch wax.

Sasol did not comment on the size of the plant or the expansion. Analysts have previously estimated that both phases of the project would increase the plant’s capacity to make hard waxes by 100,000 to 130,000 metric tons per year, while also significantly increasing capacity for medium waxes and liquid paraffins.

In 2012 Kline & Co. consultants estimated global Fischer-Tropsch wax supply at 722 million pounds per year and calculated that Sasol and Royal Dutch Shell each held 46 percent of the market.

“With the completion of this project, South Africa is now one of the leading countries of wax production globally. We’re enormously proud of this achievement and believe it is a fine symbol of South Africa’s industrial prowess,” said Bongani Nqwababa, joint president and CEO of Sasol.

Marketed by the Performance Chemicals team, hard waxes, medium waxes, liquid paraffins and waxy oils have various industrial and specialty applications, such as PVC processing and emulsions in the manufacturing of construction boards. They are not used in lubricants, but they have become more popular with declines in supply of petroleum waxes.

“The Sasol Fischer-Tropsch wax expansion project is not only important for South Africa and for the region, but also for the global wax industry due to declining supplies of traditional crude-derived paraffin waxes over the last two decades,” said Amy Claxton, CEO of My Energy Consulting and Training.

At the time of the project announcement in 2015, there were only two major Fischer-Tropsch waxes producers in the world: Sasol, with a facility in South Africa, and Shell, with a facility in Malaysia. This is still the case, according to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers’ website. Phase one of the project was completed in 2015, and phase two began operating in March of last year.

Pooja Sharma, project manager at Kline & Co.’s energy practice, predictsFischer-Tropsch waxes will see strong growth in the next five years, driven by further capacity additions in South Africa and North America by 2020. Fischer-Tropsch waxes are produced in either gas-to-liquid or coal-to-liquid plants that convert natural gas or coal into liquid petroleum product. Because Fischer-Tropsch waxes are created through the polymerization of carbon monoxide under high pressure and not from petroleum, these products are not an ideal replacement for paraffin waxes. 

“[Fischer-Tropsch] waxes have very different physical and chemical characteristics versus traditional paraffin waxes, and are not a drop-in replacement for waxes produced via [API] Group I base oil solvent processing,” Claxton said. “Historical supplies of [Fischer-Tropsch] waxes have been used primarily in specific applications which valued their hardness and very high melting points, and increased supplies of [Fischer-Tropsch] waxes are not necessarily useful for many wax applications.”

She continued, “Sasol already understood the market limitations, and their expansion presumably includes facilities to modify the properties of FT waxes and increase their applicability. As a supplier of traditional paraffin waxes via their manufacturing facility in Hamburg, Germany, as well as their FT wax operations in Sasolburg, Sasol is well positioned to supply ‘neat’ as well as blended wax types depending on their customer requirements.”