Friday, January 29, 2010

Gas-to-Liquids Production Statistics

Continuing this little series on production stats for various forms of alternative liquid fuels, this morning I look at Gas-to-Liquids (GTL).  This is a process in which
Gas to liquids is a refinery process to convert natural gas or other gaseous hydrocarbons into longer-chain hydrocarbons such as gasoline or diesel fuel. Methane-rich gases are converted into liquid fuels either via direct conversion or via syngas as an intermediate, for example using the Fischer Tropsch process.
After researching it, there seems little hope of obtaining actual production statistics for this process globally, but we can get pretty close just from research on plant capacity and opening dates. The graph above summarizes the situation. There are three plants globally operating GTL processes at commercial scale, and together they sum to less than 100,000 barrels/day.

The longest standing plant is at Mossel Bay in South Africa, operated by PetroSA since 1987 (I assume this is another legacy of apartheid sanctions) which has a 36kbd output capacity.

In 1993, Shell began operating a small plant in Bintalu, Malaysia, and increased its capacity in 2005 (from 12.5kbd to 14.6kbd).

Most recently, Sasol and Qatar Petroleum brought on stream the Oryx plant in Qatar. This had a difficult start up, but is now apparently operating at the designed 34kbd capacity.

There are also other plants under construction: the 120kbd Pearl GTL plant in Qatar, and the Escravos plant in Nigeria. Both hope for production in 2010, but given the history of difficulties with GTL plant startup we should probably reserve judgement.

There were many more plans for GTL plants around the year 2000, but most went under. A helpful National Petroleum Council study report explains:
Other planned GTL plants have all been cancelled or deferred for various reasons:
  • Two projects planned in Qatar involving Qatar Petroleum partnerships with Marathon and with ConocoPhillips were indefinitely put on hold in early 2006 when Qatar placed a moratorium on new gas developments pending further reservoir evaluation of the giant North field
  • In early 2007, ExxonMobil and Qatar petroleum announced the cancellation of the proposed 154000 b/d Palm GTL project, citing severe cost escalation as the main reason. The plant was originally scheduled to cost about $7 billion, but reports suggested that costs may have risen to around as high as $18 billion.
  • Sonatrach of Algeria has deferred bids on its planned 65000 b/d Tinhert GTL plant from 2006 until later in 2007
In the light of these developments over the past year or so, it now seems likely that the prospects of a significant contribution from GTL products could be later and smaller than has been envisaged in recent years.
You can probably guess where I am going next with this little series on alternative liquid fuels...

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