PETROSA and its joint-venture partners yesterday said they had completed the semi-commercial demonstration of the low temperature Fischer-Tropsch technology at PetroSA's Mossel Bay gas-to-liquids plant.

That marks the end of the development phase of the technology, paving the way for the companies to go ahead and prepare for a commercial operation.

PetroSA technology development manager Henry de Wet yesterday said the Fischer-Tropsch technology could be used to convert natural gas, coal or biomass into synthetic fuels. The technology will improve the performance of PetroSA's 36000 barrels a day gas-to-liquids plant in Mossel Bay, one of the largest plants of this type in the world.

A Fischer-Tropsch semicommercial unit with the capacity to produce up to 1000 barrels a day of hydrocarbon products was commissioned at PetroSA's Mossel Bay refinery. The unit was fully integrated into the existing plant. The capacity could increase to 15000 barrels a day at the commercial scale, said Mr de Wet.

In 2005, PetroSA, Norwegian national oil company Statoil Hydro and Lurgi of Germany created GTL.F1, a Swiss-registered joint venture company to market and license proprietary technologies for gas-to-liquids investments. The intellectual property in the new technology would be owned by the joint-venture partners through GTL.F1.

The companies yesterday said the development phase, carried out mainly at Statoil's laboratories in Norway and PetroSA's Mossel Bay plant, had been completed.

"The technology has progressed . to the point where a new phase directed at licensing, engineering and commercial operation has started," the companies said in a statement.

They also announced that Statoil would withdraw from the joint venture. Although Statoil has been part of the development of GTL.F1's technology, it did not see the licensing of gas-to-liquids technology as part of its core business, the parties said.

"GTL.F1 has thus progressed and developed to the point where Statoil's further partnership is no longer essential for continuing success. Statoil will have access to the GTL.F1 technology on a preferential commercial basis."

The companies said GTL.F1 had acquired all the technology intellectual property and engineering expertise for the licensing of large-scale plants.

PetroSA yesterday said it regarded the GTL.F1 propriety gas- to-liquids "as an important platform for future growth" through acquiring natural gas reserves.

njobenis@bdfm.co.za