Sasol forced to cut synfuel production because of major coal supply problems

Sasol's Secunda plant

Sasol has been forced to cut back forecast synfuel production volumes from its Secunda plant for the year to end-June 2022 by around 8% following major shortfalls in coal supply from its own mines and external supplier Thungela Resources’  Isibonelo mine.

As a result Sasol has cautioned that “we recognize that our production challenges may impact on our ability to supply customers”.

A Sasol statement said more than one million tons of coal production was lost from its own three mines.  This was caused by safety issues which were:  a fire at the Shondoni mine; an underground water reservoir “incident” at the Bosjesspruit mine which killed three workers and a high wall failure at the Syferfontein mine.

Sasol CEO Fleetwood Grobler told a media conference that the problems at Isibonelo – which is an open-cast mine – were caused by a combination of equipment problems and exceptionally high rainfall.

He said the mine recorded 281mm in November compared with 111mm in November 2020. As a result supply from Isibonelo – which typically fed 25,000t/day of coal to Secunda via a conveyor belt – fell short by some 260,000t.

Secunda’s coal stockpile dropped from 1.1mt to a low of 681,000t during November  but  Grobler said plans were to restore the coal stockpile level to above 1.2mt by end-March and then push it up to around 1.5mt during the second quarter of calendar 2022.

The cost of buying in the additional coal was estimated at between R700m and R900m and, according to Sasol executive vice-president: energy operations Bernard Klingenberg,  the coal would be sourced from a number of small coal mines located “not too far”  from  Secunda.

“We already have in place commercial agreements for the supply of up to 15,000t/day from these mines which are largely opencast operations.   We are in the process of adding extra supply so that we can ramp up to 30,000t/day if required,” he said.