Firing up Lesedi’s fuel terminal

By Eamonn Ryan | Photos by Eamonn Ryan

Located on the outskirts of Gauteng’s town of Heidelberg, Lesedi Fuel Depot lies at the heart of a rapidly rising industrial complex.

Site3 tank foundationThe massive foundations are very intricate and specialised work, consisting of layers of bitumen and HDPE interspersed with fine sand.

A one square kilometre area on the outskirts of Heidelberg, Gauteng, is becoming a hive of economic activity as home to the depot of Transnet’s new multiproduct pipeline (NMPP). The under-construction Lesedi terminal is situated in the shadow of Transnet’s adjacent accumulation facility at Jameson Park — the terminus of Transnet’s NMPP.

In just that single square kilometre near Heidelberg one can see two fuel depots — one under construction — as well as farming in the foreground and a mining dump in the background. The variety of industrial activity in Gauteng always surprises compared to almost anywhere else in Africa — and not a warthog in sight.

The N3 highway passes some five kilometres away from the site, which is also located adjacent to an existing railway line, making the site’s logistics a compelling advantage. The project is being driven by growing demand for petroleum products, as well as by the outcomes of the Moerane report of 2006. This report was commissioned in the wake of the 2005 fuel shortage that South Africa suffered, and which identified the need for improvements to South Africa’s fuel storage and transport infrastructure. It also follows the commissioning, by Transnet, of the NMPP from Durban to Gauteng. The existing depot is in Lesedi, adjacent to the new one under construction, owned by Transnet.

Site7An indication of the enormous size of the foundations.

The client

Royal Vopak, the main client, is a Netherlands multinational that has built several similar fuel storage facilities in South Africa. It is one of the leading independent tank storage companies in the world. It operates a global network of terminals located at strategic locations along major trade routes. It has over 400 years of history and claims a strong focus on safety and sustainability, whereby it ensures safe, efficient, and clean storage and handling of bulk liquid products and gases for its customers. By doing so, it enables the delivery of products that are vital to world economies and daily lives, ranging from oil, chemicals, gases, and LNG to biofuels and vegoils. Vopak is listed on the Euronext Amsterdam stock exchange and is headquartered in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Including its joint ventures and associates, it employs an international workforce of over 5 700 people. As of 18 April 2018, Vopak’s website says it operates 66 terminals in 25 countries with a combined storage capacity of 35.9-million m3, with another 3.1-million m3 under development that will be added before the end of 2019.

Site6 the neighboursThe noisy neighbours – Transnet’s depot.

Scope of work

On being awarded the tender, Motheo Construction arrived on site some seven months ago as civil engineering and earthworks contractor for the Lesedi Fuel Depot project. The contract was awarded to Motheo by Chemie-Tech, a Dubai-based EPCM contractor in the oil-and-gas industry.

The Lesedi Fuel Depot will comprise seven tanks, consisting of two 26.2m-diameter tanks and five 36.8m-diameter tanks. The civils work consists of building the foundations for these tanks, at a cost that is likely to eventually top R40-million, comprising a new 100 000m3 inland terminal. This work is being done by Motheo Construction Group. This investment expands Vopak’s infrastructure to help meet South Africa’s increasing demand for petroleum products.

The new depot will improve the security of fuel supply by facilitating the import of cleaner fuels into South Africa. In addition to the seven tanks, the project scope includes eight truck-loading bays with a vapour recovery system, and a pipeline connection to the state-owned NMPP for refined petroleum products in which Transnet, in its six-month results to September 2017, announced it had already invested R560-million.

The NMPP runs from Durban to Gauteng, where approximately 70% of South Africa’s fuel demand is concentrated. The pipeline reduces the need to transport fuel from Durban to Gauteng by road, instead offering customers a more cost-effective, scalable, safe, and environmentally friendly way to supply this region.

The entire project is divided into three phases. The scope of work includes the construction of seven tank foundations, a foundation berm wall, and a 35m × 35m × 7m concrete manifold structure. Motheo is commissioned to perform the civils work, which involves the construction of the foundations for the seven tanks being installed on site.

Site2 CraneA crane lays part of the tank in place.

Chemie-Tech is responsible for the remainder of the project, consisting of mechanical works, electrical works, piping, tankage, and instrumentation.

“The construction method of the tank walls is new in a local context,” says Junithan Moodley, operations director of Motheo Construction Group’s civils division. Conventionally, a concrete ring beam is built, filled in from the inside, and with a steel tank on top. “In this instance we are using earth materials to construct a foundation for a 30-million litre tank. This is very intricate and specialised work, consisting of layers of bitumen and HDPE interspersed with fine sand.”

The base consists of G2, with river sand the filler. “There is an estimated 50 000m3 total volume of cut for the contract,” says Derick Shabalala, commercial manager at Motheo. “There is furthermore 6 800m3 of estimated G2 material used for the construction of tank foundations (compacted volume), an estimated 11 500m3 of sand for the tank infills, 4 100m3 of G6 for the tank bund wall, and 4 500m3 of G7 and G5 for filling around the tank foundations, 2 600m3 of concrete for the manifold area, and 234 tonnes of steel,” adds Shabalala.

Site1 laying tankHere a foundation for one tank is complete and the tank itself is beginning to be built.

This new construction methodology has complicated the procurement of materials, services, and skills from the local community. Moodley highlights that the main goal is to “assist black-owned businesses wherever we can”. However, on-site contract manager Rodney Johnson describes the single biggest challenge as being the procurement of these earth materials in sufficient quantity.

“With current usage, we require 500m3 a day of G2 and river sand. But we cannot get sufficient supply in the region. The activities are so linked that without G2, we cannot put in the river sand, and without river sand we cannot put in the foundation. It causes a chain reaction.”

High water table

The high water table was a challenge. The tanks’ foundations required excavating to a depth of 1.8m on average and this was sufficient to disturb the high water table. Ground water, combined with rainwater, meant that pumping was an almost daily activity on site. Fortunately, a wetland site is adjacent and the wastewater could be pumped there without difficulties. Water led to further delays, says Johnson, as excavation would uncover layers of damp material unsuited to undercut. “This did not conform to what the geotechnical survey had predicted, and we had to cut deeper and fill with G6 and G7 and insert rock anchors and piling. Some of this we were able to source locally and from our own excavations, but more had to be bought commercially.”

Addressing safety

“It’s a challenging brownfield environment in which we have to adhere to strict petrochemical standards and safety controls. There are two levels of standards at play here: the basic statutory compliance standards of South Africa which are non-negotiable, and the higher behaviour-based standards of a multinational company that seeks to drive and incentivise elevated standards of safety behaviour.” To this end, both Motheo and Chemie-Tech have safety officials on site, and the company has monthly safety awards, as well as monthly prizes for the ‘Safety Person of the Month’, as nominated and assessed by staff for something extraordinary related to health and safety.

“We have had an excellent safety record on this site,” says Johnson.

List of professionals

  • Client: Royal Vopak
  • Contractor: Chemie-Tech SA
  • Architect: Royal Vopak
  • Civil engineer: Royal Vopak
  • Quantity surveyor: Royal Vopak
  • Earthworks professionals: Motheo Construction Group
  • Geotechnical (piling, wall retainers, and more): Aurecon did the geotechnical report prior to the commencement of the project.


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