Specialised Plant Lies Idle At Sable Chemicals

A multi-million-dollar specialised plant at Sable Chemicals near Kwekwe is lying idle after it was abandoned two years ago because of its high consumption of electricity.

Management at the country’s sole ammonium nitrate (AN) producing firm said the electrolysis plant consumed 115 megawatts per month and they had to decommission it after they acquired another one, which consumes 10 megawatts for the same period. Since then, the plant has been lying idle despite the fact that it was functional and management is in a quandary on how to realise value from it.

Members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Lands, Agriculture and Resettlement chaired by Gokwe Nembudziya MP Cde Justice Mayor Wadyajena (Zanu-PF) expressed the same concern during a tour of the firm by the committee last week. Sable Chemicals chief executive Mr Bothwell Nyajeka said they had to decommission the plant because it did not make economic sense to continue using it.

“This is a customer specific plant. It is an electrolysis plant that removes hydrogen from water and it is made specifically for a customer. We can only dispose of it if we can get an entity that needs to perform the same function, that of drawing hydrogen from water. It is now two years since we decommissioned it,”he said.

Mr Nyajeka said they were forced to decommission it in 2015 when Zesa Holdings was struggling to provide enough electricity to the country when water levels at Kariba Dam were low. This saw more than 250 workers at Sable Chemicals losing their jobs, but with a new plant, the company was on a rebound.

“It does not make economic sense to use it, otherwise the price of fertiliser would be higher and distributors would resort to importing fertiliser abroad,” said Mr Nyajeka.

Chitungwiza North MP Mr Simon Chidhakwa (MDC-T) asked if something could be done to make it viable.

 “Are we saying that this machine will become redundant forever? I am quite concerned by this machine. Can’t something be done to make it functional?”

Mr Nyajeka said Government’s Command Agriculture Programme increased demand for Ammonium Nitrate fertiliser from Sable Chemicals, a situation that has seen production levels rising significantly.

He said Command Agriculture had improved the business prospects of their firm significantly. Responding to questions from legislators, Mr Nyajeka said poor rainfall patterns that characterised this season had not affected demand for the product.

“If there is going to be any effects to be felt, probably it will be next year,” he said.

Most farmers buy their fertiliser in anticipation of a good harvest and if rains do not fall they will simply not apply the fertiliser and keep it for the following season.

“So, we did not have any reduction in demand because of the low rainfall this year. As we go next year, we are likely going to get a drop in demand.”

Mr Nyajeka said they were hoping to reach full production of around 240 000 tonnes per year in the next two years.

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