GTL (Gas To Liquids) Technology
Here’s a note specifically meant for chemist/senior energy analyst Glenn Doty, my go-to guy for questions of this nature. I thought I’d post it here, since other readers might be interested.
My personal comment is that a synthetic fuels enterprise couldn’t possibly make sense when it the reactants are fuels that already value. What these guys offer (if it works at all) is like manufacturing cars by buying cars off the assembly line, dismantling them into parts, and then reassembling them back into cars. Am I right?
Note for other readers who may not be following this:
GTL = gas-to-liquid fuels
CH4 = methane, the largest component of natural gas
syn gas = synthetic gas, the simple gases that are created when larger organic molecules are broken down
FT = Fischer Tropsch, a technology that synthesizes fuels from syn gases
6 comments on “GTL (Gas To Liquids) Technology”
As you well know, for a business proposition to be viable, it’s not a question of efficiency, it’s a question of the value of the inputs vs the value of the outputs.
In this case the company is planning on making a smaller-scale diesel synthesis plant in an area with a large amount of stranded natural gas.
Natural gas is a relatively easily traded commodity. The Henry Hub price today seems to be about $2.87/mcf (thousand cubic feet, or approximately one MJ of chemical energy).
But you can only sell the gas if you can get it to a pipeline that gets it to a hub, or a power plant, or a house with NG heating… If you have a small plot that is rich in NG but a few hundred miles removed from the nearest significant pipeline, it could cost a fortune to expand the pipeline network to accommodate your little field, which might not be viable, or might take 30 years to pay back, if you’re field is too small.
Hence: Stranded gas. It’s there, but it’s worthless because you can’t exactly put it in bags and take it to a market. It’s still quite common in the oil industry to flare natural gas coming out of the wellhead in many fields, because the gas volume isn’t worth expanding the gas pipelines to capture it. Obama made that illegal in many cases, and forced oil and gas companies not to do that… and of course Trump reversed that so most of them are doing it again.
What this GTL plant is offering, specifically by offering a small production facility, is a chance to take stranded gas or the flared gas, and convert that into diesel which is more transportable, and worth far more per MJ of chemical energy as well.
A typical GTL plant involves both a WGS (water gas shift: H2O+CO–>2H2 + CO2 + energy) and FT (Fischer Tropsch: (2x+1)H2+(x)CO –> CxH(x+2) + xH2O + energy). Both reactors are exothermic. So it gives off a lot of heat and a lot of water. Both are useful for oil field operations.
So this company is hoping to get oil companies to invest in their production facility to take a waste product and convert it into three things of value specifically within the region of the oil field operations: diesel, heat, and steam.
To re-address your analogy. This would be like taking assembled vehicles from the junkyard, scrapping them for metal and spare parts, and making new vehicles that actually work.
I’m not advocating for the plant. I know how complicated something like this is. If you recall our CARMA platform was also a partial GTL concept, that was partially powered by stranded (curtailed) wind. I understand the economics, but I don’t know their “secret sauce” so I cannot even speculate as to whether their idea has merit.
Most GTL’s are extremely large. We had four patents based on fluid flow and thermal dynamics that would allow for efficient downsizing for our concept. If they don’t have something really interesting then the small plant size will kill their profit potential.
Nice analysis from Glenn!