Chinese investor starts operations at new refinery in Ghana

Jan. 31, 2024
Sentuo Oil Refinery Ltd. has commissioned the first phase of it two-phase grassroots refinery still under construction in the Heavy Industrial Area of Tema, Greater Accra Region, Ghana, about 30 km east of the capital city of Accra.

Sentuo Oil Refinery Ltd. (SORL)—a subsidiary of privately held Chinese conglomerate Sentuo Group—has commissioned the first phase of it two-phase grassroots refinery still under construction in the Heavy Industrial Area of Tema, Greater Accra Region, Ghana, about 30 km east of the capital city of Accra.

Operational as of Jan. 26, Phase 1 of SORL’s refinery is equipped to process 2 million tonnes/year (tpy) of crude oil as part of a public-private sector partnership under Ghana’s broader industrialization agenda to strengthen the domestic economy and reduce the nation’s dependence on petroleum-product imports from abroad, Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo said in a statement.

Ghana currently relies on foreign sources to meet 97% of its overall demand for finished petroleum products, Akufo-Addo said.

Alongside creating a stable supply of petroleum products, creating additional jobs, and increasing competitiveness of Ghana’s manufacturing sector, Akufo-Addo said he expects startup of the refinery’s second phase—which will expand crude processing capacity at the site to 5 million tpy—also will further support the government’s Made-in-Ghana initiative to prioritize local production from local resources, including attracting increased outside investments into the nation’s petroleum, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and construction industries.

While neither Akufo-Addo nor SORL disclosed details regarding startup or operations of the refinery’s first phase, Shanghai Hoto Engineering Inc.—which delivered engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) services for the project—confirmed in a late-December 2023 release that SORL on Dec. 15 “seamlessly commissioned” all Phase-1 “process units, storage-transportation installations, and utilities… followed by [production] of qualified products.”

The timeframe for completion and startup of the project’s second phase has yet to be officially revealed by any of the parties.

Proposed project details

In a June 2020 draft environmental impact assessment (EIA) submitted for approval to Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency, SORL said the refinery was to be built in two phases, each with a 1.5-million tpy capacity to process light crudes from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Nigeria.

Initially slated for startup in 2020, Phase 1 of the refinery was to include the following:

  • Atmospheric distillation unit; 1.5 million tpy.
  • Heavy oil catalytic unit; 800,000 tpy.
  • Diesel hydrogenation unit; 600,000 tpy.
  • Naphtha-methanol-to-gasoline (NMTG) combined unit; 300,000 tpy.
  • Catalytic gasoline selective hydrogenation unit; 400,000 tpy.
  • Sulfuric acid combined plant; 600,000 tpy.

Similar equipment was to be installed as part of Phase 2—to be built between August 2021-June 2023—for subsequent integration and unified operation with Phase 1, which was to have started operations in early 2021, according to the EIA.

Under that since-revised scheme, the fully completed refinery was to produce 1.12 million tpy of gasoline, 1.23 million tpy of diesel, and unidentified amounts of LPG, benzene, aromatics, xylene, sulphuric acid, acrylic, polypropylene, bitumen, and fuel oil.

SORL’s selection of main refinery process technologies for the project as of mid-2020 included unspecified, patented technologies from various providers as follows:

  • Tianjin University; atmospheric distillation unit.
  • Sinopec Luoyang Design Institute; heavy oil catalytic complex.
  • Sinopec Fushun Research Institute; residue hydrogenation.
  • Sinopec Fushun Research Institute; diesel hydrogenation modification.
  • China Petroleum Research Institute; catalytic gasoline hydrogenation.
  • Beijing Institute of Petrochemical Science; naphtha reforming.
  • Nanhua Group Research Institute; sulfur recovery.

Once fully operable, SORL’s manufacturing site will become Ghana’s second—and presently—only operable refinery.

While Akufo-Addo reiterated the government’s “unflinching commitment” to restoring operations at state-owned Tema Oil Refinery Co. Ltd.’s (TOR) existing-but-inoperable 45,000-b/sd refinery at Tema, details regarding the proposed revitalization plan for the site have yet to be revealed.