Sustainable energy solutions, technology and management company, NOVO Energy, launched its large-scale Natural Gas Compression (NGC) facility at the Highveld Industrial Park in eMalahleni, Mpumalanga on 8 March.

The R130m facility represents the most advanced compressed natural gas infrastructure in the world and will provide a cleaner, more reliable and cost-effective alternative energy than coal and other petroleum products. In South Africa’s energy throttled environment, this new facility will play a significant role in helping unlock the country’s power constraints, while reducing carbon intensity, and supporting the objectives of the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Gas Industrialisation Programme.

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.”

World’s worst air pollution

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, including SASOL’s Secunda operations, are 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.”

Gas hub is a national key point

A company that started out as a gas supplier, today NOVO is an integrated energy solutions business that supplies gas, infrastructure and a customised turnkey solution 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 – more future fit.”

The eMalahleni plant, which took less than six months to build and will operate 24 hours a day, year-round, is a fully automated site with substantial compression capacity and access to very large gas supplies. It’s described as a gas aggregation hub with a unique configuration of compressors and loading facilities and it can handle a lot of logistics through the site and rapidly load the NOVO logistics fleet. Vehicles can also be refuelled on site.

“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 the site on all the components from a compression and loading point of view and a 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.

“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 the molecules, and manage the logistics of getting the gas to our customers. From mines, to bakeries, factories, hospitals or a fleet – we deliver the CNG to customer sites via road. Our gas packs installed on trailers, are then fed into either a factory or refuelling station.

“Many businesses across various industries have not 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’s half the price and we can distribute gas anywhere in the country.”

Expanding on the concept of a gas aggregation hub, Hugo said it has been structured to provide flexibility in the future so that the eMalahleni site can receive gas from any other source, not only from 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 supplying 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 today’s actions will lead to a sustainable future and has embraced government’s vision of implementing strategies that support the National Development Plan 2030. – press release