Transitioning SA's Petrochemical Value Chain

Local air quality

Sasol’s operations in both Secunda and Sasolburg give rise to local air pollutants in addition to greenhouse gases. Local air pollutants include Particulate Matter (PM), Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) and Total Volatile Organic Compounds (TVOCs). These pollutants arise from both power generation and industrial processes.

Sasol claims to have been actively working on reducing emissions to the atmosphere to comply with the National Environment Management: Air Quality Act 39 (2004 and amendments), through adhering to the emissions limits specified in the Atmospheric Emission Licences (AELs) for Secunda and Sasolburg. Sasol reports aiming to achieve full compliance in 2025, apart from sulphur dioxide emissions from Secunda for which the company is proposing what it refers to as an alternative approach linked to decarbonisation, although it currently has applications for postponement of compliance with regard to TVOCs and SO2 for Secunda pending.

Both Secunda and Sasolburg are situated in Priority Areas for air emissions, with the Highveld Priority Area experiencing ongoing exceedances of National Ambient Air Quality Standards which impact human health and livelihoods in the area. South Africa’s Minimum Emission Standards are relatively lenient when compared to global norms, with the Highveld Priority Area Air Quality Management Plan currently under review. The activist lawyers, Centre for Environmental Rights and shareholder advocacy group Just Share have been putting increasing pressure on Sasol and other emitters in recent years to reduce their emissions and comply with the MES.

Upstream of Sasol, coal mining and processing also give rise to local air pollutants, notably Particulate Matter. While emissions may be contained to the mine site (depending on the mining operations), they have the potential to impact negatively on workers and immediately proximate communities.

Whilst a decarbonised Secunda and Sasolburg will no longer emit the pollutants associated with the processing and burning of fossil fuels, the alternative low / zero carbon production processes for chemicals and liquid fuels will have to be assessed for negative local air emissions impacts to ensure that there are no unforeseen consequences of their introduction.

Downstream, the combustion of liquid fuels in vehicles can give rise to NOx, PMs, Hydrocarbons (HC), and Ozone (O3) which can impact human health when highly concentrated, for example in a congested city. Sasol’s fuels are very low in sulphur, so sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions associated with combustion of their fuels will be low relative to combustion of liquid fuels produced from crude oil, a point to consider if substituting synfuels for imported refined product. Local air emissions from new energy vehicles are likely to be low, although use phase local air impacts associated with green chemicals will have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.