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Sustainable energy solutions, technology and management company, NOVO Energy has launched its large-scale Natural Gas Compression (NGC) facility at the Highveld Industrial Park in eMalahleni, Mpumalanga, the most advanced compressed natural gas infrastructure in the world. MechChem Africa attended the launch.

In South Africa’s energy-throttled environment, NOVO Energy’s R130-million NGC facility will play a significant role in helping to unlock the country’s power constraints, while reducing carbon intensity. In so doing, it will support the objectives of the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Gas Industrialisation Programme by providing cleaner, more reliable and cost-effective energy compared to coal and other petroleum products.

NOVO energy natural gas compression station

Commenting at the launch, NOVO CEO Andri Hugo said, “South Africa is a coal-based economy with about 77% of electricity generated from coal and a large portion of transportation fuels derived from the same source. Add to that the large percentage of industrial processes that use coal and you have an entire industrial sector built around cheap coal and electricity. But we depend heavily on imported resources for our hydrocarbon supply and this has resulted in exposure to international energy supply uncertainty, issues of reliability and price volatility.”

Adding to this, Hugo highlighted the considerable environmental negatives associated with the use of coal as a base energy resource. “It’s been reported that the Witbank area has the world’s dirtiest air, and the Mpumalanga province is the global number one hotspot for NO2 emissions. The cluster of 12 coal-fired power stations in the area is responsible for this pollution. Natural gas on the other hand has the lowest emissions of any hydrocarbon fuel source and it’s the obvious choice to transition into a cleaner more sustainable future driven by the gas economy.”

At just 3% of the country’s total energy mix, South Africa’s natural gas market is small, but with all its inherent benefits it has the potential to completely change the economy by stimulating economic growth and development, stability, and job creation.

“We are in a predicament. We don’t have sufficient reliable electricity to grow our economy so there’s a lot riding on natural gas to make the difference,” said Hugo. “Africa has been blessed with an abundance of resources, including minerals, energy, natural resources and human capital. A combination of these, through industrial activity, can address most of the socio-economic challenges we face. Natural gas will play an important role in our energy mix through power generation, thermo-industrial applications and transportation and the vast natural gas discoveries on the continent will provide the key to unlocking our gas economies.”

A company that started out as a gas supplier, today NOVO is an integrated energy solutions business that supplies gas, infrastructure and customised turnkey solutions for customers using its sustainability model to drive change. The model helps businesses achieve an equitable balance between the health of its people, the planet and profitability. “We have to start doing business differently and while it’s complicated and messy, it will be to our detriment if we don’t become more sustainable in how we operate.”

The eMalahleni plant, which took less than six months to build and will operate 24/7, 365 days a year, is a fully automated site with substantial compression capacity and access to very large gas supplies. It’s described as a gas aggregation hub and has a unique configuration of compressors and loading facilities that can handle a lot of logistics through the site to rapidly load the NOVO logistics fleet. It has the ability to refuel vehicles on site too.

“The site is a national key point so we eliminate supply interruptions when there’s no electricity and a lot of redundancy has been built into site components, from a compression and loading point of view and on to the logistics fleet. Because of this, we can always make sure there’s no interruption to our customers should there be equipment failures or anything goes wrong. We have also made provisions for generator tie-in in the future.”

Hugo added, “The reason we built this facility, aside from meeting the growing demand for CNG, is to supply customers who are not on an existing gas pipeline. As a gas aggregation hub, we can receive gas, process it and manage the logistics of getting the gas to our customers’. From mines, to bakeries, factories, hospitals or fleets, we deliver the CNG to our customer’s sites via road and our gas packs, installed on trailers, are then fed into factories or refuelling stations.

“Many businesses across various industries have never had access to the natural gas pipeline and have been restricted to the use of coal and refinery products that are dirty and expensive. Now, because of this new infrastructure, we can help them make the switch to natural gas, a cleaner more sustainable alternative energy that is half the price – and we can distribute gas anywhere in the country.

Expanding on the concept of a gas aggregation hub, Hugo said it’s been structured to be able to provide flexibility in the future so that the eMalahleni site can receive gas from any other source, not just a pipeline. NOVO can then distribute to customers in a compressed form or even as liquid natural gas (LNG). “These infrastructure hubs are important to the future of the gas economy.”

Through its customised offering and the supply of CNG to industrial, mining, pharma, agri, food, and transport customers with requirements for heat, steam, power generation and cleaner fuel for transportation, NOVO will strengthen energy security, revitalise the economy of Mpumalanga and play an important role in environmental impact reduction.

NOVO believes that actions today will lead to a sustainable future and it has embraced government’s vision of implementing strategies that support the National Development Plan, 2030.

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