On the path to zero carbon, GTL is an immediate solution

As the world looks to transition to a low-carbon economy, cleaner-burning GTL is an immediate viable stepping stone on the path to net zero.

in figures

Capacity of NiQuan’s GTL plant: 2,600 bpd

Potential reduction in NOx emissions from the use of GTL fuels: 37%

On the path to zero carbon, GTL is an immediate solution

January 12, 2023

As countries aim to reduce the environmental impact of sectors such as oil and gas and transport, gas-to-liquids (GTL) presents a key option for reducing gas flaring and cutting transport emissions. NiQuan Energy Trinidad, whose GTL plant in Pointe-à-Pierre ranks as the first commercial-scale GTL plant in the Western Hemisphere and the first dedicated small-scale GTL plant in the world, shares insights on GTL’s promise.

Since 2015, when 195 countries signed the historic Paris Agreement, nations have banded together for the very first time to create opportunities to meet the agreement’s objective of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7F) compared to preindustrial times. From then to now, additional measures have been added to support this milestone: the Global Methane Pledge introduced at COP 26 in Glasgow, the Zero Routine Flaring by 2030 Initiative introduced by the World Bank and a loss and damage fund concept introduced during COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheik.
The underlying outcome for all these initiatives and programmes is to ensure that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are cut to half by 2030 and, in the case of the COP objectives, reach net zero by 2050 (and by 2060 for the most vulnerable nations).

KEY SECTORS: While many sectors contribute to overall emissions, the oil and gas and transportation sectors represent a large percentage of the global total. Routine flaring associated with extraction activities as well as burning coal, significantly contribute to the release of carbon dioxide, particulate matter, methane and sulphur into the atmosphere. The World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership estimated that in 2021, 144 bcm (5.08 bcf) of associated gas was flared. It is estimated that at current levels of flaring, roughly 400 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent are emitted annually (The World Bank, 2022).
Gas flaring practices in the energy sector have been in use since the industry began 160 years ago. As many wellheads are located in remote areas, producers are faced with several challenges with capturing, storing and transporting associated gas. Already aware of both the impact flaring has on the environment and the challenges in managing it, many producers are looking for meaningful ways to further reduce their carbon footprint.
Heavy utilisation of crude-derived transportation fuel makes the transportation sector one of the fastest-growing emitters of GHG gases. In the United States alone, transportation accounted for roughly 1.61 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions. According to a May 2022 research article published in the journal Resources, Conservation and Recycling, at current rates, the world could see carbon dioxide emissions stemming from the transportation sector increase by 41% by 2030 (Wenxiang Li, 2022).
However, both sectors present great opportunities for innovation on the path toward carbon neutrality.


A ROLE FOR GTL: Although not a new technology, GTL has proven to be a reliable method in recovering flared gas. Recaptured gas can be used as feedstock once it has undergone pretreatment to remove impurities such as sulphur, CO2 and acid gases. The result is a feedstock that is almost entirely methane.
Then, using one of several reforming technologies, the methane gas is converted into hydrogen and carbon monoxide or synthesis gas (syngas). The next step in the process is Fischer-Tropsch synthesis through a FT catalyst, which is at the heart of any GTL facility. The result of the FT process is a near-zero sulphur, biodegradable liquid hydrocarbon that can be further refined into any other number of clean products including diesel, naphtha, propane, kerosene or non-aqueous base fluids for drilling muds. The byproduct of the process is mainly condensate water and hydrogen.
The use of small-scale GTL plants has been the subject of many feasibility studies for this very purpose. While studies show that GTL is a viable option, there were no small-scale GTL facilities that could prove small-scale production worked in the real world until NiQuan Energy’s NiQuan GTL facility located in Pointe-à-Pierre, Trinidad and Tobago, began producing GTL diesel and naphtha in an 80/20 split in Q3 2022. At 2,600 bpd, NiQuan GTL is the first small-scale GTL plant in the world and the first commercial-scale GTL facility in the Western Hemisphere.
Many of the challenges of using GTL technology in remote fields – i.e., smaller quantities of gas, utility supply and logistics – can be answered with engineered solutions. GTL repurposes a proven technology that can help many operators and countries meet their flares-out goals in the future.
Because they are derived from natural gas, the cleanest of hydrocarbons, GTL fuels offer immense environmental benefits in the transportation sector. GTL use is associated with reduced particulate matter or soot, NOx, and CO2 emissions often left behind when utilising traditional diesel. Studies undertaken by Shell have indicated that GTL fuels can reduce NOx emissions by 37% and particulate matter by 50% when compared to conventional diesel. Cleaner emissions of course result in improved air quality.
As the world moves toward electrifying its economic activities through renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, wave, green hydrogen and bioenergy, GTL as a “transitional fuel” has gained greater prominence.

GROUND TRANSPORTATION AND INDUSTRIAL ENGINES: GTL fuels have a near-zero aromatic and sulphur content, lower than that of other premium fuels such as ultra-low-sulphur diesel. As countries look to tighten their road transportation emissions requirements, GTL’s nontoxic nature makes it a viable contender. Modifications to accommodate its use are minimal. Infrastructural changes at the pump are not required and the fuel can be used as a drop-in in existing diesel drive trains.
Since no additional engine modifications are required, transitioning diesel fleets to the lower-carbon GTL option is an immediate and cost-effective way to reduce emissions. The higher cetane levels of GTL fuels contribute to not only improved vehicle performance, but also enhanced fuel efficiency. A senior executive at Certas Energy, the largest independent distributor of fuels and lubricants in the United Kingdom, remarked “as GTL is a drop-in fuel, every car is potentially a GTL car.”

MARINE: 90% of world trade is undertaken by large sea-going vessels such as container ships and tankers, and along with the maritime sub-industry supporting these activities, they account for around 2.5% of global greenhouse emissions. In light of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) and IMO 2020, GTL has become a serious contender and an excellent choice as an alternative drop-in fuel in the sensitive marine environment due to its biodegradability. When spilled in water, GTL dissipates, eventually being absorbed into the water thus protecting fragile marine life. Often, these delicate ecosystems take years to recover from the use of crude-derived fuels.

AVIATION: In the aviation sector, GTL fuel combustion expels less particulate matter, contributing to an improvement of overall air quality. While GTL can be used neat and carries no requirements for engine or fuel system adaptation, it is typically a main component in blended fuels. In 2013, Qatar Airways became the first airline to use GTL fuel. Their GTL jet fuel is a 50/50 blend of GTL synthetic paraffinic kerosene and conventional crude-derived Jet A-1.
It is clear that traditional fuels will dominate the energy mix in the short and medium term. But with utilisation similar to traditional diesel and less emissions and impact on the environment, GTL is an immediate viable alternative in many applications. As the world looks to transition from a high- to low-carbon economy, cleaner-burning GTL is an immediate viable stepping stone on the path to net zero.

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