Business: Synfuel Success

Alchemy in South Africa

A labyrinth of pipes and valves, tanks and towers rises above the flat bushveld 60 miles north of Johannesburg. At night chimneys spew a gas that casts an eerie orange glow over the surrounding expanse of coal fields. Downwind from the plant, 35,000 people live in Sasolburg, a city of green lawns and broad highways. Their job: to produce Sasol, a synthetic oil made from coal.

South Africa is ahead of the U.S. in its development of synthetic fuel. For a country boycotted by most of OPEC and without its own...

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