Every Friday morning, SAfm’s AMLive’s radio anchor Xolani Gwala speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:
Gwala: South Africa’s home-grown company – Sasol – is planning to invest a colossal R190-billion in the US to become the biggest foreign investor in the State of Louisiana.
Creamer: This is incredible. We have grown Sasol since 1950 and we see it as a huge cash cow here, but its expansion within South Africa is very moderate at the moment. Now this opportunity in the US is just something that is so compelling they cannot turn it down, because they are going to move into Louisiana where the Governor, Bobby Jindal, has been rolling out the red carpet for them.
They do have that presence in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He has actually physically visited the plant three times now. They are planning that over the next seven years having three major projects, besides the ethane cracker, they are going to have two gas-to-liquids (GTL) projects, which one such important projects at the moment, because they also have got that green footprint.
Sasol knows the story because they are already doing GTL in Qatar, in the Middle East, where they take the gas and convert it into green diesel and petrol. This is something that the world wants, but of course, Bobby Jindal, the Governor, also wants the jobs. It looks like there will be between 7 000 and 9 000 jobs there and there are already 500 people at Lake Charles with Sasol buying up more and more land.
We don’t want the same thing to happen to Sasol that happened to Anglo American, another iconic company that now has a secondary listing in Johannesburg, primary listing in London and they are calling it a British company, but it is a South African company. Sasol’s secondary listing is in New York, primary listing in South Africa.
If it grows the way it looks like, because this expansion represents two thirds of its existing market capitalisation, this is a massive potential investment in the US with great potential for growth. We need to insist that they have primary listings in both places.
Gwala: South Africa has taken another step towards the local development of fuel-cell technology, which makes use of platinum mined in South Africa.
Creamer: It is a fantastic thing because there is zero emission and it could shrink the carbon footprint so people could be looking at using fuel cells. Now we see the hydrogen fuel-cell prototype golf cart. They are looking to see that this has superior efficiency, zero emission is the big thing and greater productivity.
Again, the State, South Africa’s government, is involved because it has got the Hydrogen South Africa Systems project and the Western Cape University that deals with that. It has encouraged now a golf-cart manufacturer, Milex, to put a fuel-celled prototype through its tests in the Western Cape.
That has begun and will end round about May. Now, another thrust of the use of fuel-cells are they are platinum-using, which is the catalyst that we mine here, so it is very important for us to get new markets for platinum. We can see that we are too dependant on Europe. This is a great opportunity because we saw Anglo American Platinum last year also use this for locomotives. We know that Vodacom is already using some of the South African developed fuel cells for power back up.
So it is creeping in and there is a huge window of opportunity here and with the correct investment now in the various parts of this, we could create hundreds of thousands of jobs potentially in South Africa. If some champion can just take this, like the Department of Trade and Industry.
They were hoping to create this Platinum Valley that could be the starting point. Someone needs to grab this by the throat now because the opportunity is there. Zero emission so we could become a major player in the global green economy and we could be the first movers to get into this niche and at the same time create a market for our platinum.
Gwala: Transnet is studying the economic feasibility of building new coal terminal as part of a R30-billion expansion of the port of Richards Bay.
Creamer: Transnet has taken journalists down to Richards Bay and shown them what is going on in their minds. One of the aspects of this R30-billion vision that they have for expanding the Richards Bay port is another coal terminal, which comes as a bit of a surprise because we do have the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) and that has a 91-million ton capacity, but not all of that capacity has been taken up.
Already RBCT has said they are ready to go up to a 110-million tons to accommodate the new black-controlled coal miners that are envisaged by Eskom. Now Transnet is saying that they have conceptualised and idea to an open-access port, because with RBCT you have got to be a shareholder because it is a private-sector port.
The State is saying if there are these new suppliers they have got to supply Eskom. The business plan is that not only must they supply the domestic economy, but in order to be viable they have also got to export and we must have this opportunity. They have already conceptualised a 14-million ton to 32-million ton possibility, which will be open-access for people coming in with their coal. They have got their eye on the Foskor site.
Foskor is State-owned through the Industrial Development Corporation so they could have access there to create this terminal. Their eyes are also on the Bayside Aluminium plant because Bayside isn’t doing to well and BHP Billiton may decide to cease operations there, in which case they could have possible access to that site.
So a lot of thinking going on. At the same time we know that the Waterberg coalfield has to be exploited and it has to use that same coal line.
Transnet very aware that the capacity of the coal line must come up and now also wanting to possibly create an open-access additional coal terminal, besides the RBCT.
Gwala: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly, he’ll be back with us at the same time next week.