Sable Chemicals readies for full gallop

Sable Chemicals readies for full gallop
Published: 30 July 2017
SABLE Chemicals - Zimbabwe's biggest ammonium nitrate manufacturer - is now operating at 30 percent capacity as it battles to rediscover its footing following remodelling of its plant to improve efficiency and drastically reduce its electricity consumption.

The plant now consumes between 6MW and 10MW, down from a staggering 90MW - which was equal to the installed capacity at Bulawayo Thermal Power Station. Sable completed remodelling of its plant in November 2015.

The old electrolysis plant gobbled electricity during manufacturing of ammonia, a key raw material in the production of AN, and was discontinued in October 2015 after a deal had been struck between Government, management and power utility Zesa.

Mr Bothwell Nyajeka, the Sable CEO, told The Sunday Mail Business last week that, "In the short-term, Sable has put together a number of financing and toll manufacturing structures. Some structures have been approved by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and others are still being assessed." He declined to reveal more details saying "these structures are confidential".

The power bill — which at one point ballooned to US$150 million — had become an albatross around Sable's neck. Electricity costs sky-rocketed despite the fact that Sable was getting power at a special tariff of USc3 per kilowatt hour, with Government paying the difference.

With a lower rate of power consumption, Sable are back on commercial electricity tariffs. Mr Nyajeka said historical electricity bills had been extinguished "and are no longer an issue".

In the medium to long-term, Mr Nyajeka said the plan was to increase production to "at least 200 000 by 2019 to; reduce imports of nitrogen fertilisers into Zimbabwe, save foreign currency and improve Zimbabwe's balance of payments (and) economies of scale". The company aims to ride on the success of Command Agriculture to boost operational capacity.

Command Agriculture, an import substitution scheme introduced by Government in the 2016/ 2017 summer cropping season to increase food production in the country and consequently ensure food security, is expected to see an output of over two million tonnes of maize.

Mr Nyajeka said: "Sables supplies AN to Command Agriculture. Command Agriculture has resulted in increased activity in the agriculture sector, rise in demand for agriculture inputs including fertilisers (and) increased capacity utilisation in the fertiliser industry."

Fertiliser production at Sable plummeted to a record low of 40 000 tonnes in 2009. At full capacity, the plant churns out 240 000 tonnes of AN, which was all consumed by local farmers in the 1990s.

Sable has 200 permanent employees and 100 on short-term contractors. When production rises to near capacity, 300 people would be directly employed.
- online
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