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Coal-to-liquid (CTL) technology, which is the conversion of coal to liquid fuels, is a viable solution to Botswana’s fuel woes. With the country’s estimated 212 billion tonnes of coal reserves, CTL technology will turn this black gold into a valuable natural resource.

Technical development of CTL has resulted in a variety of systems capable of handling a wide array of coal types writes Kudakwashe Gamba, senior account manager at Lifa Communications. Liquid fuels from coal provide ultra-clean liquid fuels because of the top of the range clean coal liquefication processes that capture and store potentially harmful emissions from the manufacturing process.

This lucrative solution helps mitigate the risks of energy security pressures and ever-increasing fuel prices. It would also reduce and potentially remove the reliance on imported petroleum, produced synthetic liquid fuels and certain speciality chemicals, which is the status quo in Botswana, and guarantees a reliable supply of liquid fuels for national security and economic stability.

Benefits of Botswana building its own fuel production capacity

CTL projects provide a long-term solution to the fuel supply security of Botswana. It is a national imperative to focus on alternative sources of fuel supply in order to reduce Botswana’s dependency on South Africa for fuel and mitigate the potential supply disruptions emanating from the recent civil unrest in that country. As has been the case in the past, when such political upsets run their course, Botswana’s fuel supply security is challenged, especially with the potential impact on mining production – specifically Debswana Diamond Mines, which are the mainstay of the country’s economy.

With the average monthly consumption of 100 million litres and an average Basic Fuel Price (BFP) of P5.00/litre, Botswana’s fuel import bill amounts to P500 million ($50 million) per month or P6 billion ($60 million) per annum. Thus there is a dire need to substitute fuel importing. CTL projects will ensure that this significant portion of state expenditure is redirected within the local economy to create jobs and broaden the tax revenue base for the country.

Investing in tech to promote economic growth

One of Botswana’s Vision 2036 goals is innovation through transformation and progress through investments in innovation, research and development. CTL, as a cutting-edge technology, will contribute towards transforming the economy through the exploitation of the country’s coal reserves to promote security of supply and create jobs.

Exploiting Botswana’s massive coal reserves

In 2011, the Botswana government developed a national strategy on coal development that constitutes a blueprint for the orderly, timely and beneficial exploitation of the coal resources. This initiative was called the Botswana Coal Road Map. A local CTL production facility is in line with execution of the objectives of this initiative.

A CTL project in the pipeline

Shumba Energy, the Botswana listed mining and energy investment company, in a bid to assist with easing the petrol fuel pressures in Botswana and the region, has committed to a CTL project through an 80% owned subsidiary, Coal Petroleum Limited. Having signed an agreement with PowerChina International Group and Wison Group, and with a bankable feasibility study underway, the company is working to develop a CTL plant using coal reserves from its Mabesekwa project.

The plant is expected to produce 20,000 barrels of diesel per day and 5,000 barrels of gasoline per day when it is complete, as well as potential for additional production circuits for avgas for airlines, fertiliser for farming, and speciality chemicals (Aromatics) for the hydrogen fuel and related energy storage technologies also being pursued by Shumba.

While developed economies are moving away from coal-fired power generation, which is perceived as excessively pollutive in comparison to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, the reality remains that coal-fired baseload power will be required to drive economic development both in Botswana and within the SADC region. However, the development of CTL operations will ensure that the Botswana coal industry still adds value to the country’s parallel efforts to also utilise, where possible, perceived pollutive energy sources such as coal. This technology solution will minimise environmental impacts while driving growth in the gross domestic product – spurring industrialisation, reducing reliance on importing energy, and contributing to increased regional trade.