Persian Gulf Star Refinery, Iran’s flagship project to become gasoline-independent is targeting exports to markets in East Asia, once the plant achieves maximum capacity next year, according to a source.

The estimated $3.4bn plant in the south, also known as Bandar Abbas Gas Condensate Refinery is integral to reducing Iran’s dependence on gasoline imports and helping the country become a net exporter.

The refinery which came online at the end of April, currently operates at 70,000 barrels a day (b/d) capacity, short of its maximum capacity of 360,000 b/d, added the source.

While under sanctions, Iran’s ageing refineries were unable to produce gasoline compatible with European fuel specifications. Iran was forced to import gasoline from abroad, which was often mixed with lower quality domestic product resulting in the use of environmentally hazardous fuel in automobiles which added to pollution levels in major cities such as Tehran.

Ending its dependence on gasoline imports was one of the targets of Iran’s petroleum ministry once nuclear-related sanctions were lifted last year.

Iranians were estimated to have consumed around 74 million litres of gasoline daily in 2016, of which 12 million litres a day (l/d) were imports.

Once the Persian Gulf Star refinery operates at full capacity, it would produce 12 million l/d of gasoline, which would replace Iran’s current volume of imports.

“Persian Gulf Star Refinery is at commissioning stage now. The total feedstock of the refinery is 70,000 b/d at the moment. We have to reach the maximum capacity of 360,000 b/d. There is a gap between design and maximum capacity and we’re not independent of gasoline imports,” the source told MEED.

“If we can cover internal demand, then we’ll look at export markets. We’ll be targeting East Asia – China and Japan,” he added.

The refinery, which uses gas condensate sourced from the massive South Pars offshore gas field shared with Qatar, will be developed in three phases.

It delivered the first shipment of gasoline from its phase one development in June. The remaining phases are expected to come online by first quarter of 2018.

The refinery is owned by Iran’s Oil, Gas and Petrochemical Investment Company, Oil Industry Pension Fund as well as the National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company.