Sasol, Pretoria U. Investigate Synthetic Diesel

A RESEARCH COLLABORATION between Sasol and the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the University of Pretoria (UP) has led to the commissioning of high-tech equipment to gain better insights into the properties and performance of synthetic diesel fuels.

The new LECO Pegasus 4 GCxGC-TOFMS (comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatograph combined with a time-of-flight mass spectrometer) has been commissioned at UP's Separation Science Laboratory in the Department of Chemistry to gain better insight into the influence of trace components in synthetic diesel, and the application of such fuels in engines, turbines, and other devices.

The acquisition of this expensive equipment was made possible by financial support from Sasol Technology through joint research interest in the chemistry that underpins the physical properties of diesel fuels. The ability to obtain such chemical insight has only become feasible through the extreme analytical power of the GCxGC-TOFMS instrument, allowing for the identification and classification of literally thousands of compounds.

The initiative forms part of Sasol's University collaboration initiative, a long term program that supports the core objectives of world-class teaching and research capacity in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at selected South African Universities. This program was initiated a few years ago and is already successfully established, using the framework of a hub-and-spoke collaboration philosophy, at several SA Universities.

Although primarily designed to protect Sasol's competitive advantage of doing R&D in SA, this program will have significant spin-offs benefiting South Africa in general. An important area related to Sasol's fuels and lubricants research, is the rheological (study of the flow of substances under various conditions) and physical behavior of its synthetic fuels. The LECO Pegasus 4 GCxGC-TOFMS will enable scientists to make much more detailed analyses of how the more than 100 compounds that make up synthetic diesel fuel contribute to the likes of performance, viscosity, and lubricity of these fuels. This area of research is known as tribology.

With the rapid changes in engine technologies globally, it is important to fully characterize the composition of these fuels in order to exploit their unique benefits. Such academic expertise in South Africa exists at the University of Pretoria's Department of Chemical Engineering under the leadership of Professor Philip de Vaal.

In-depth chemical characterization of fuels and lubricants is absolutely essential in understanding their rheological behavior. Analytical chemistry support (separation science), under the leadership of Professor Egmont Rohwer, is therefore another vital pillar in the sustainability of this program. The support of this research area at UP hence involves both the disciplines of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry.

The ability to identify specific chemical compounds in extremely complicated mixtures will also help the University of Pretoria in other non-petrochemical research fields, including air and water pollution, forensic toxicology, and aroma analysis. In all these areas the LECO GCxGC-TOFMS will be used in combination with other unique analytical instrumentation and techniques developed at the UP Separation Science laboratories.

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