Gas-to-Liquids and Coal-to-Liquids Production Statistics  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

Stuart Staniford at Early Warning has a post on the state of play for gas-to-liquids projects around the world - 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 ...

Start also has a post on coal to liquids - Coal-to-Liquids Production Statistics.
So, in today's adventure in much-harder-to-find-than-they-should-be energy statistics, I try to assemble some kind of series for global production of synfuel from coal-to-liquids (CTL). This went even worse than the tar sands. However, I think I have figured out the big picture, and I report my findings here for the benefit of future energy sleuths, or in the hope that someone will point me at better data if it exists.

Firstly, for the sake of readers just getting up to speed, what we are talking about is the possibility to use various kinds of chemical transformations to make a petroleum-like liquid fuel from coal. See the Wiki entry on coal liquefaction for more details of the various possibilities. This was done most famously by the Germans during World War II, and has been done for a long time in South Africa; the South Africans needed to get around economic sanctions during the Apartheid era, and that country has a lot of coal and not much oil. Since there are huge amounts of coal underground around the world, CTL is often cited as a potential substitute for oil in future (generally by folks not worried about climate change).

There are at present two plants in the world operating coal liquefaction processes at commercial scale. The first is operated by Sasol in South Africa and has been operating for a long time. The second has just been opened last year by Shenhua in China. ...

Overall, the picture seems to be that South African production of CTL synfuel has been roughly flat for many years. There are some fluctuations, but there is certainly not an overall upward trend.

The data situation for the new plant in China is even sketchier. According to this page, the capacity of the plant is 1 million tonnes per year, which is about 1/7 of the output of Sasol in South Africa. It reached full production some time in mid 2009, so there would not have been a full year of production in 2009. Thus, at this time this represents a rather small increase in total global production of coal to liquids - perhaps of the order of 5-10%, with a little more coming in 2010 with, I assume, a full year of operation. Shenhua does have plans to increase the plant capacity to 3Mt in the future, which would give another increase when that occurs.

Amusingly, the CTL plant is located in a place we have already referenced on this blog: Ordos.


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