Rand-Air Keeps Sasol Synfuels Nitrogen Project Flowing Smoothly - Another Innovative ‘first’ for Rand-Air

Delivering a project on time and within budget within today’s fast-paced and demanding business environment is a major achievement. This is particularly crucial in the dynamic petrochemical industry, which is characterised by high operational pressure and tight timelines.


Leading compressor and generator hire company Rand-Air, which is part of the global Atlas Copco group, has played a significant role in the recent timely delivery of mission-critical equipment and service to the Sasol Synfuels nitrogen project.

Sasol Synfuels is located in the town of Secunda, in the coalfields of Mpumalanga, and is the second extraction refinery producing oil from coal, after Sasolburg. The plant is currently undergoing significant upgrades, and as such, required an increase in reforming capacity.

Further investigation revealed that the nitrogen to be used for drying in the process plant needed to be compressed.

“Knowing that we had the technology available, a face-to-face meeting was organised with the customer the next day, where we presented the option of using our Atlas Copco oil-free PTS916 compressors, fitted with nitrogen kits,” explains Melanie Lake, Account manager at Rand-Air.

“To support our offer, the proposed set-up was illustrated with a reference to a previous project in Madagascar that Rand-Air was involved with.”

“The installation was challenging, and we had to come up with a number of innovative solutions to the specific challenges of this project,” Melanie continues.

“The compressors which Rand-Air supplied were initially designed as oil-free air compressors, and had to be modified to accommodate the flow of nitrogen,” she explains.

Apart from the supply of compressors, safety was a critical issue and in order to reduce some of the potential risks to a minimum, the following examples were implemented:

  • The LOTO ‘Lock Out, Tag Out’ procedure was implemented. When Rand-Air personnel serviced machines on site, they identified themselves and informed affected people of the nature and duration of the intervention, during which there was no air supply. They also double-checked to ensure that LOTO was done properly
  • To minimise the risk of hoses bursting on site, all hoses were tested and certified
  • To prevent the units from running out of diesel, which could directly have affected the customer’s production, all compressors were programmed with a new fuel level program: on reaching 25% fuel capacity, a yellow light would begin to flash and a warning would show up on the screen.



Sasol Process Engineer Johan Visagie reports that the commissioning and start-up of the plant also required a steady flow of compressed nitrogen.

“The above-mentioned project criteria required reliable, oil-free compressor equipment; and we approached Rand-Air to supply us with 6 Atlas Copco oil-free compressors for this project,” says Johan.

He points out that these compressors were installed parallel to each other, thereby ensuring that the required total flow rate and pressure of nitrogen gas was achieved.

“We were confident about proceeding with the project based on Rand-Air’s confidence that the compressors would serve their purpose, their utmost professionalism and several in-depth technical consultations about the proposed installation,” Johan explains.

“As the compressors were being used in an application for which they were not originally designed, round-the-clock careful management of this project and of the equipment was required, and a Rand-Air technician was on site at all times to facilitate this,” he comments.

“As an experienced Process Engineer, I know the value of completing a component of a key project ahead of schedule, and in such a competent and professional manner. It is, quite frankly, invaluable.

The continuous flow of nitrogen was mission-critical to this project, as final commissioning would never have been able to take place without it,” he enthuses.

“Sasol as a company is typified by its stringent focus on safety and quality, and requires the same level of dedication from its suppliers.

We are extremely proud to have been selected by a customer with such high standards for what was a challenging and interesting project, both technically and operationally, to execute,” concludes Louwrens Erasmus, General Manager of Rand-Air.

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