Sasol expansion project: What is it? - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Sasol expansion project: What is it?

(Source: Sasol) (Source: Sasol)
Mark Schnell Mark Schnell
Adrian Guillory Adrian Guillory

It's been almost a year since Gov. Bobby Jindal and South African executives from Sasol were in Southwest Louisiana to announce the major expansion project that the company is bringing to the area – basically two new facilities, a $7 billion ethane cracker and a $14 billion gas-to-liquids facility in 2020.

Gas-to-liquids … "GTL" … ethane cracker …

We're hearing this terminology around Southwest Louisiana as we anticipate the big Sasol expansion project. But have you ever wondered … just what it all means? What will these plants do?

KPLC's Cynthia Arceneaux has spent the last couple of weeks really getting to know just what is "GTL" and what in the world is an ethane cracker.

What Sasol is bringing to the area is a gas-to-liquids facility which takes natural gas and turns it into a wide range of other useful products. That main project will be diesel fuel.

Mark Schnell, of Sasol, said, "What gas-to-liquids does is it takes natural gas and it puts it through a chemical process to chemically change natural gas into different products."

Ninety-six thousand barrels a day of high quality diesel fuel, coming from much cheaper natural gas as a feed stock. It's a win-win for Sasol, and a win-win for the people of Southwest Louisiana who are looking forward to the thousands of jobs. So, what does the process look like?

"We start off with natural gas and oxygen. These are the two starting points. The first step in the process is to reform those two into what we call syngas," Schnell said.

Once the syngas comes out of the reformer unit, it then passes through GTL reactors and then out of the reactor unit. It's on to the third step, a refinery process, where it's split into different products. And even though diesel fuel will make up 70 percent of the product at the new GTL plant, it's not the only thing.

"But additionally, and for the first time at our Louisiana plant, we'll also be producing chemicals," Schnell said.

Chemicals that go into a lot of the items you use every day – for example, your washing detergent has something called paraffin in it. That will come out of the GTL facility. Specialty waxes like in your lipsticks and candles as well as motor oils that go into your vehicle engine – all of those chemicals coming out of the GRL plant.

The push is now on to make sure the workforce is properly trained. Sasol officials say the company is committed to hiring Louisiana first. But now is the time to get the skills that are necessary. Adrian Guillory, a chemist, got those skills.

"Growing up, seeing it. Now, I'm working with the company," he said.

Guillory is a chemist in research and development at Sasol. He graduated from LaGrange High School and majored in chemistry in college, a good example of what some pre-planning can do.

Now, the GTL plant is actually the second of two facilities Sasol is building.

The big ethane cracker will be the first to go up, with construction to start in the latter half of 2014. It will take natural gas and make ethylene.

Officials encourage people to log onto and then click on "career opportunities."

From there, you can see a listing of available jobs. Job-seekers can also create a profile so that they are in the system.

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