GTL conversion: The Pearl Project

01 June 2008

Gas-to-liquids (GTL) conversion is an umbrella term for a group of technologies that can be used to create liquid synthetic fuels from a variety of feedstocks.

The basic technology was developed in Germany in the 1920s and is known as the Fischer-Tropsch process after its initial investors.

Technology differs between the leading GTL companies but the Pearl GTL uses a catalyst in its fixed-bed reactors to produce a wax from the gas feedstock, which is subsequently cracked to create products such as lubricants and gasoil.

The dimensions of the Pearl GTL facility are simply enormous. The plot size of 1.6 kilometres by 1.4km, or 230 hectares, equates to more than 450 football fields, with more than 3,000 items of equipment, including pumps, compressors, columns and vessels to be installed by start-up.

Under the development and production-sharing agreement, the UK/Dutch Shell Group provides all the funding and also bears the risk of appraisal, development and production activities in return for a share in the production for a fixed project duration.

While the details of its contract with Qatar Petroleum (QP) remain confidential, Shell points out that in a typical agreement, the share of the production to which the contractor is entitled is partly linked to the recovery of past costs, and partly a profit element, which is a function of the contractor’s profitability ratio.

Pearl GTL is a two-train project, with the first 70,000-barrel-a-day (b/d) train due to be commissioned by the end of the decade, and the second 70,000-b/d train due a year later.

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