Sable Seeks Less Power-Hungry Fertilizer Methods on Supply Cuts

  • Zimbabwean utility cuts Sable electricity supply by 75%
  • Sable may cut jobs as it introduces new technologies

Sable Chemicals Pvt Ltd., the sole manufacturer of ammonium nitrate in Zimbabwe, will look at new ways to make the fertilizer after the country’s utility cut electricity supply to the company’s plant by three quarters because of power shortages.

Sable has studied the commercial viability of using coal-bed methane and the results have been positive, it said in an e-mailed statement Friday. Migration to the new technology “will take some time” and will “regrettably necessitate a realignment of the manning levels to match the new business model,” it said. The company employs more than 500 people.

The manufacturer was using power-intensive electrolysis technology to make the hydrogen needed to produce ammonia at its Kwekwe plant, a process that accounted for 90 percent of the 40 megawatts of electricity Sable was using. Zimbabwe cut supply to the company this week to 10 megawatts.

The nation produces about 984 megawatts of electricity, far short of the 2,200 megawatts it needs. Much of that power comes from the Kariba hydropower plant, where reservoir levels have dropped to just 29 percent, according to the Zambezi River Authority.

Sable, jointly owned by TA Holdings Ltd. and Chemplex Corp., has an installed capacity to produce 240,000 metric tons of ammonium nitrate annually. It uses 115,000 tons of ammonia to make the fertilizer, 63 percent of which was produced at Kwekwe, with the rest imported from South Africa. Until a new manufacturing method is decided on, Sable will keep buying from the neighboring nation, it said.

Fertilizer prices, already the highest in the region, may rise further, Joel Gabuzza, a lawmaker for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said in Parliament Thursday.

“We don’t want to see a repeat of what happened at Zisco, also in Midlands province, which has collapsed,” he said, referring to a state-owned steel mill that remains closed after a $3.5 billion deal with India’s Essar Group to revive it fell through. “These companies are vital for the revival of the economy, but government doesn’t seem to care.”

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