South Africa’s plastics manufacturing industry received a boost on Tuesday as Petrochemicals giant Sasol inaugurated a new ethylene purification unit in Sasolburg in the Free State province.

The plant was officially opened by Sasol chief executive David Constable and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies.

Sasol said in a statement that the new plant, representing a R1.9-billion investment, would address the growing demand for polyethylene material while allowing Sasol to make better use of existing downstream polyethylene facilities.

“Through the installation of the new ethylene splitter, considerable production capacity has been freed up to produce more ethylene,” Constable said. “In so doing, our investment in [the new unit], together with a new compressor unit in Secunda, will provide the South African plastics manufacturing industry with an additional 47 000 tons of polyethylene annually.”

Sasol said half of this production would be reached within the next six months, with the plant expected to reach full capacity by 2017.

Sasol Polymers MD Marinus Sieberhagen said the plastics industry was a significant contributor to South Africa’s economy, with local demand for polyethylene polymers growing at a rate of 4% to 5% annually.

The plant was also designed to reduce hydrocarbon flaring, which will in turn reduce the carbon footprint of Sasol’s total ethylene production in the country.

According to the company, a significant amount of construction and engineering work on the ethylene purification unit was sub-contracted locally, resulted in knowledge transfer and skills development in construction and advanced welding techniques.

“At the height of construction, we were able to create 1 000 construction jobs, predominately sourced from the local community in Sasolburg,” Constable said, adding that the project demonstrated Sasol’s focus both on unlocking the potential of the country’s chemical assets and on supporting local communities.