Botswana to accelerate $4 bln coal-to-liquid refinery project -minister

CAPE TOWN, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Botswana, which has some of Africa’s largest coal reserves, wants to cut harmful carbon emissions but is committed to using its resources for a new coal-to-liquid (CTL) refinery set to come onstream by 2025, the mines minister said on Tuesday.

State-owned firm Botswana Oil (BOL) issued a tender three years ago seeking investors to build the plant, estimated then to cost around $4 billion, as the diamond-rich southern African country seeks to secure its energy supplies.

“It (CTL plant) is still in its infancy stage, but we believe now it will be accelerated,” Lefoko Maxwell Moagi, minister of mineral resources, green technology and energy security, told Reuters on the sidelines of the Mining Indaba investment conference in Cape Town.

Moagi described Botswana’s 212 billion coal reserves as “God’s gift” and said the CTL project, as well as a 100 megawatt pilot coal bed methane project, were two projects Botswana would fast-track.

“We believe coal has also got a beneficial way of being exploited without adding to the carbon footprint. We can convert it in coal-to-liquids, we can convert it to gas, we can do a lot of things with coal and these are the things we will be exploiting fully,” Moagi said.

Asked about funding challenges for any future coal-related projects amidst a global pushback from banks and investors, Moagi said some banks, which he did not name, as well as Chinese firms remained potential financiers.

Moagi said the government had held preliminary discussions with Sasol, a recognised leader in CTL technology and whose Secunda refinery currently supplies South Africa with millions of litres of synthetic fuel each year.

Sasol did not immediately respond for comment.

Last year, Shumba Energy formed a joint venture with two Chinese companies to build a separate coal-to-liquids plant at a cost of between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.

Moagi said the government also expected to finalise power purchase agreements this year for a planned new 100MW pilot power plant using coal bed methane, gas trapped in underground coal seams.

Tlou Energy and Sekaname, a subsidiary of Kalahari Energy, have been shortlisted to develop the project.

“The project is at an advanced stage because what we needed to do is to make sure the power purchase agreements are finalised and we hope that this year it will be finalised,” Moagi said.

He said the government expected the coal bed methane project to come onstream by 2022. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Susan Fenton)