Rich finds African Firm "ready."
Massive mining company interested in coal-to-fuel project in Pennsylvania
The Pottsville (PA.) Republican & Evening Herald
September 29, 1998
When John W. Rich Jr. accompanied a state delegation to South Africa earlier this month, the
most he hoped for was to establish communications with industries there. What he got was a visit to
Sasol Technology Ltd. - a coal gasification/liquefaction "Disney World"- where he piqued the interest
of executives. Rich, president of Reading Anthracite Co., Pottsville, and Waste Management
Processors Inc., Gilberton, and the delegation had approached Sasol executives to learn more about
the possibility of bringing the efficient, clean process of coal conversion to Pennsylvania.
Three days after the initial meeting, Sasol executives sought out Rich and the delegation for
further talks. It seems they were interested in two more ventures: possible usage of bituminous coal
fields in western Pennsylvania and testing of a new technology in explosives that enables the
demolition of more rock with half the explosive charge. "They are willing, ready and able to do
business with Pennsylvania," Rich said of the Sasol executives. "And they have a great deal of mining
expertise, not just in coal, but in gold, platinum and palladium."
With 8000 visitors coming from as far away as China to tour Sasol's site and tap it's resources,
the Pennsylvania delegates would have been happy to begin a dialogue. Instead, Sasol has actively
pursued the group with the intent of investing in Pennsylvania. "Suddenly, the roles were reversed,"
Rich said. "I think we really impressed them. We showed them how forward-thinking the governor is
and it gave us credibility as developers."When the new millennium dawns, Rich hopes to begin
construction on a gasification/liquefaction plant of his own, just west of the Gilberton Waste
Management site. "That gives us 15 more months to finish the financing and have everything in
The project would create 1,000 construction jobs, then 150 permanent jobs that, Rich said would
pay an average $18 per hour. "We want the jobs and the dollars here," he said. "We have to stop
shipping our dollars overseas." Rich said Sasol's facility is massive. It sits on a 7.2 square mile parcel
and processes 40 million tons of coal a year brought from an underground mine that has 2,600 men
working in it. It took 26,000 men five years to build the plant. Today, miners ride to their jobs in a
two-level elevator able to accommodate 550 men at a time. Once mined, coal travels through the
massive complex on a 12-mile long conveyor.
Twenty-five percent of that coal is used to make South Africa's electricity, Rich said."Sasol
produces 30 percent of the country's transportation fuels," Rich said. The facility is so important to
the country's energy reserves that during the height of apartheid, according to Rich, it sustained three
missile attacks from anti-government forces. Even now, a strategically placed game reserve forms a
protective barrier. "If you want to attack the place, you have to go through the lions first," Rich said.
Sasol Technology is the world's sole proprietor of the technology that turns coal into fuel. Rich
and 25 other Pennsylvania employers, as well as four of Gov. Ridge's cabinet members, first toured
Sasol's plant early in the delegations eight-day trade mission from Sept. 12-19.Domestically, members
of the delegation have begun talks with Texaco, which would provide the gasifier for the coal
processing, according to Rich.
Few people know you can take a lump of coal and turn it into a pint of liquid," he said. "But in
South Africa, it's as common as Yuengling beer."