SCI Scotland meets Sasol

On 6 August 2008, the SCI Scotland Regional Group held a meeting at the University of St Andrews on the unique relationship between St Andrews and Sasol, a South African global player in the commercial production of chemicals and liquid fuels.

Dr Bob Tooze, director of Sasol’s activities at St Andrews, outlined the reasoning behind the cooperation. When Sasol wanted to expand globally, it needed to retain the tacit knowledge embodied by its key scientists, and decided that a greenfield establishment would best meet its strategy. This would better protect its intangible assets and help to create ‘technology listening posts’, keeping it at the forefront of any key developments. St Andrews was the best option for this.

The relationship is mutually beneficial. St Andrews receives an income and Sasol gets a managed laboratory and access to one of the best catalyst chemistry departments in the UK. The use of a university laboratory gave the Sasol team such an advantage, that it took just three months for them to be working at full capacity, and just six months to file their first patent.

Dr Tooze provided a fascinating view of the St Andrews work. Using the the Fischer Tropsch method, Sasol can produce relatively large quantities of working fuel substitutes. The current focus is on using homogenous catalysed metathesis to produce hexene and octene in a more selective way; an unorthodox approach that gives better control over the substances than the more common heterogeneous catalysts.

The presentation showed how science and business have combined to create a successful venture. Prior to the talk, the Group held their annual general meeting at which they elected Professor Russell Howe as their new honorary chairman.

The picture shows the new SCI Scotland Regional Group committee: (L-R) Ross McDonald, Russell Howe, Hamish Anderson, Tom Clarkson and Richard Bond

Scotland Regional Group

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