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Acid Plant Database January 27, 2009

History of Mineral Fertilizers in South Africa

Manufacture of fertilizer in South Africa dates back to 1903, when the South African Fertilizer Company (SAFCO) in Durban commissioned the first phosphate plant, using animal bones.   Subsequent development of the mining industry necessitated the production of explosives in South Africa and enabled the production of large quantities of sulphuric acid, as a by-product.  The sulphuric acid was used ain fertilizer production, which became a viable proposition.  This lead to the commissioning of the Kynoch superphosphate plants at Umbogintwini in 1919, and two years later Cape Explosives (CAPEX) (originally called De Beers Explosives) at Somerset West.

South Africa was dependent on imported fertilizer products, which were mixed and blended with local products.  Import supplies dried up during the Second World War.  Price control was introduced as a war measure during the early 1940’s and was abolished on 1 January 1984.

The original Kynoch and Capex joined forces in 1924 aas AE&E, which later became AE&CI, and in the 1960’s another factory under the same umbrella was established at Modderfontein.   In 1944, the name changed to African Explosives and Chemical Industries, at present AECI Limited.

Foskor, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), developed the apatite deposit at Phalaborwa in 1951.  The Sasolburg oil from coal plant was brought on stream between 1950 and 1960.  Raw materials for fertilizer production became available and the Fisons and Windmill fertilizer factories were established at Sasolburg, and the Bosveld factory at Phalaborwa.  By 1969, these factories, together with Fisons factory and Milnerton, had become part of Fedmis.

Omnia started with distribution of agricultural lime in 1953 and opened its first fertilizer factory at Sasolburg in 1967/68.  Three liquid fertilizer plants at Dryden, Danielsrus and Hectorspruit, a second factory at Sasolburg and a phosphoric acid plant at Phokeng near Rustenburg followed this.

Triomf established its factory at Potchefstroom in 1967.  A factory at Richards Bay followed this in the 1970’s.  In the 1970’s, Triomf and the non-nitrogen interests of AE&CI joined forces (currently AECI Limited).

The lifting of price control on fertilizers in 1984 coincided with several other events.  The most severe drought in two centuries, and the coincidence of the worst recession since 1930’s had a serious effect on both farmers and fertilizer industry.  Sasol Limited, which previously had been a supplier to other manufacturers only, established its own fertilizer company (Sasol Fertilizers) and started marketing directly to farmers in 1984.

Triomf and AECI separated their interest.  Triomf kept the factories at Potchefstroom and Richards Bay, whilst AECI revived the name Kynoch Fertilizers with their factories at Somerset West, Umbogintwini and Modderfontein, which they repossessed from Triomf.  In 1986, Kynoch took over the local interest of Triomf.  At about the same time an overseas consortium (Indian Ocean Fertilizer (Pty) Ltd., of IOF) took over the Richards Bay plant.   IOF produces phosphoric acid and soluble phosphates mainly for the export market.

In 1988, the operational interests of Fedmis, a division of Sentrachem, were taken over by Sasol Fertilizers, Kynoch Fertilizers and Omnia Fertilizers.  During 1990, Foskor became a shareholder of IOF.  In 1992, Sasol Fertilizers decided to cease its direct marketing to farmers.  In 1993, Kynoch fertilizers took over the nitrogen interests of AECI.   Chemfos (a subsidiary of Samancor), which mined rock phosphate at Langebaan, ceased its activities at the end of 1993. 

The years 1999 to 2002 were characterized by large-scale rationalisation and acquisitions in the industry.   Foskor obtained the entire shareholding in IOF, resulting in the latter becoming a fully owned subsidiary of Foskor and IOF was changed to Foskor Richards Bay.  Norsk Hydro obtained the controlling interest in Kynoch, AECI’s fertilizer division.   Sasol Fertilizer, which had been trading as Sasol Agri since 2000, obtained a 100 percent interest in Fedmis of Phalaborwa, which was operated as a 50-50 joint venture by AECI-Kynoch and Sasol Fertilizers.

Source: Mineral Economics – An Overview of South Africa’s Mineral Based Fertilizers, 2003, Republic of South Africa, Department of Minerals and Energy, compiled by M.E. Ratlabala, March 2003.