South African synthetic fuels group Sasol said yesterday it hoped to secure financing by the end of 2002 for its 34,000 barrels per day Gas-to-Liquids project in the tiny state of Qatar.

Sasol is in a joint venture with state-owned Qatar Petroleum to set up an $800 million Gas-to-Liquid (GTL) plant at the Ras Laffan Industrial city that will produce environmentally friendly synthetic fuels, with virtually no sulphur content.

"Our first priority is to get that delivered on schedule and within its budget, which we are on target. Financing will be in place by the end of this year," Sasol Executive Director Pat Davies said.

Davies, who is responsible for expansion of the group's GTL technology to international markets, said the Qatar venture would be "earnings enhancing" in its first year of operation starting July 2006.

Qatar, whose gas reserves overshadow its oil reserves, has moved to gas-to-liquids technology to cash in on its mammoth gas reserves, the third largest in the world after Russia and Iran.

The project is scheduled to begin production in 2005. Using Sasol's Slurry Phase Distillate (SPD) technology, the plant will produce 24,000 barrels per day (bpd) of diesel, 9,000 of naphtha and 1,000 of liquefied petroleum gas.

Initially set up in the 1950s to exploit South Africa's abundant coal reserves to shield the country from the mid-1970s oil crisis and an embargo against the then apartheid government, Sasol has evolved into a global chemicals and oil group.

The technology that was initially used to produce synthetic fuels and chemicals has now been enhanced to produce "green fuel." It also gave birth to SasolChevron Holdings, a joint venture with ChevronTexaco to pursue gas-to-liquid ventures globally.

SasolChevron Holdings Ltd and partners Nigerian National Petroleum Corp (NNPC) and Chevron Nigeria Ltd are developing a $1.3 billion, 34,000 bpd GTL plant in Nigeria.

Davies said they were currently conducting a commercial feasibility study in northwestern Australia for another GTL project.

"We are also looking at various possibilities in Iran and South America. But right now it's nothing firm, just looking at the potential of those countries," he said.