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World’s largest GTL facility turns to LIMS for enhanced operations

08.01.2013  |  Thurston, C.,  Thermo Fisher Scientific, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Pearl GTL is using a new laboratory information management system (LIMS) to manage, analyze and integrate data that keeps the plant functioning securely and efficiently.

Keywords: [GTL] [information systems]

Established by Shell and Qatar Petroleum in 2006, Pearl GTL is the largest gas-to-liquids (GTL) facility in the world. GTL is the conversion of natural gas to liquid fuels and other products, including gasoil, naphtha, kerosine, n-paraffin and lubricants. Pearl GTL has a capacity of 140,000 barrels per day (bpd) of these products and 120,000 bpd of liquefied petroleum gas.

The data produced by the facility’s quality control program is tremendous: More than 30,000 content, volume, emissions and equipment measurements are transmitted at any given time. With the integrity of its brand, the safety of its workers and the profitability of its enterprise on the line, Pearl GTL turned to a laboratory information management system (LIMS) to manage, analyze and integrate the data that keeps the plant functioning securely and efficiently.

The facility

Pearl GTL has no shortage of world records. Located 80 km north of Doha, Qatar, the site includes the largest GTL plant and one of the largest instrumentation and control systems anywhere on earth (Fig. 1). GTL technology enables Qatar, in partnership with Shell, to open up opportunities in new markets, monetizing the country’s enormous natural gas resources through the creation of high-quality, easy-to-export liquid fuels.

  Fig. 1. The Pearl GTL plant north of Doha, Qatar.

The facility, which became fully operational in 2012, processes 1.6 billion cubic feet per day of wellhead gas to remove contaminants and refine natural gas liquids. Using a proprietary synthesis process, Pearl GTL converts output from the world’s largest non-associated gas field into fuels, lubricants and other high-quality products that it ships to markets around the world. Pearl GTL is an integrated upstream/downstream facility that entails the full value chain of gas extraction and processing from offshore development through onshore refining.

The challenge

The scale and diversity of Pearl GTL makes it a complex operation. The building phase alone required the creation of a private offloading quay in Ras Laffan City to import 2 million (MM) freight tons of materials and equipment. More than 100,000 visas were issued to bring in workers who installed enough steel over five years of construction to build 40 Eiffel Tower monuments.

It was clear that Pearl GTL would need a highly sophisticated software solution to manage the data coming out of a quality control system that receives a constant stream of 34,000 transmitted measurements. These tests gauge well content, volume, emissions, equipment condition and hundreds of other parameters that are integral to the plant’s operation. In addition to collection and storage, the data needed to be organized, integrated and analyzed to ensure product quality, plant and customer safety, environmental protection and production efficiency.

Additionally, a solution was needed to ensure that Pearl GTL’s laboratories remained in compliance with standards such as ISO 17025. The ISO standard sets an international benchmark for running a testing laboratory, laying out qualifications for supplies, training, recordkeeping, equipment calibration and much more. Pearl GTL required the ability to comply with ISO 17025 and other standards at all times, and to retrieve data demonstrating compliance in the event of an audit.

LIMS to the rescue

With so many prerequisites for success, Pearl GTL needed a proven solution. The right LIMS would allow Pearl GTL’s sampling program to meet its designers’ ambitions by presenting accurate, unbiased information to maintain the highest standards of safety, regulatory compliance and environmental commitment without sacrificing financial performance. In fact, a LIMS would enhance Pearl GTL’s bottom line by collating testing data, which allows managers to make impactful business decisions quickly.

Given the operation’s complexity, Pearl GTL’s LIMS would need to be fully integrated and able to communicate with a variety of other systems, including operations management, batch tracking and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Without full integration of the LIMS to existing enterprise systems, being successful with a venture the size and scale of Pearl GTL would be nearly impossible.

An advanced LIMS was selected; it featured state-of-the-art testing laboratories, standardizing the solution across all laboratory equipment and production systems. The LIMS offered unparalleled support for each of the Pearl GTL facility’s stringent requirements, and its implementation helped drive success from the beginning.

Automation and error elimination

One of the principal reasons for choosing the LIMS was its ability to work with other systems. At Pearl GTL, the LIMS is integrated with an operations management system, a process historian, the oil-movement and batch-tracking system, laboratory instruments and other production systems.

The way the LIMS integrates with the process historian is a particular source of efficiency for Pearl GTL. Where some labs manually send test results to operators, technologists and process engineers (among other users), at Pearl GTL results become available to all relevant parties within the process historian system as soon as they are authorized in the LIMS. This means that employees whose work hinges on quality sampling are receiving the information they need in real time.

Faster production and reporting

Another critical consumer of lab data is Pearl GTL’s oil-movement and batch-tracking system. Again, the LIMS creates efficiencies by eliminating wait times. For example, when panel operators need to move oil to new tanks in preparation for shipping, they do not have to wait to be notified of test results, minimizing demurrage charges for loading delays that can cost as much as $35,000 per day. As soon as the results have been issued in the lab, the LIMS notifies operators through the oil-movement system, with which it is seamlessly integrated. Since Pearl GTL began operations, the facility has incurred no demurrage charges—an incredible feat for an operation of its size.

The LIMS has also enabled a paperless environment that eliminates many human errors inherent in traditional laboratories. Humans make an average of 3–6 mistakes for every 1,000 lab readings transcribed. In a sampling program the size of Pearl GTL’s, this would amount to dozens, if not hundreds, of errors every day. The LIMS solves this problem by integrating with lab instruments that automatically transmit data to the LIMS as soon as final results are produced.

The LIMS aggregates all this data and combines it with information collected from other sampling systems, and even from technicians in the field, enabling the vast array of data to be collated and presented in a logical format for managers to analyze, which makes for fast, effective decision-making.

Integrating the field with the lab

The LIMS also helps Pearl GTL operators more efficiently collect data from the field for analysis in the lab. Using the operations management system, all sample points in the field are marked with radio frequency identification tags. When field operators perform sample rounds, a handheld computer guides them to each sample point and then automatically records the required information, whether the sampling task is routine or nonroutine.

The LIMS is fully integrated with the operations management system, so the data collected in this system are instantly transferred to the LIMS from the field for analysis by managers or technicians in the lab, saving Pearl GTL an estimated 2,400 work-hours per year.

Enhanced compliance and safety

Finally, the LIMS makes it possible for Pearl GTL to meet an increasingly crucial requirement of oil and gas laboratories: regulatory compliance. ISO 17025 established an international standard for how sampling labs manage data collection, security, instrumentation, traceability, personnel and more. By collecting complete data records, the LIMS ensures that Pearl GTL is always in compliance with ISO 17025 and other standards. The solution also guarantees that compliance can be proven in the event of an audit.

The LIMS assists in exceeding ISO 17025 requirements by instilling a culture of safety at Pearl GTL. By tracking equipment conditions, well content and many other issues that could become safety concerns at any GTL facility, the LIMS allows managers to make real-time decisions that protect workers and the surrounding environment.

Shell and Qatar Petroleum’s dedication, coupled with the holistic LIMS solution, have led to an impressive safety record at Pearl GTL: Despite its enormous size, in 2010, the facility hit 77 MM hours worked without a single lost-time injury.


Since its groundbreaking in 2006, the Pearl GTL project needed to be built with proven, dynamic technologies. The LIMS helped manage a sophisticated sample program by fully integrating multiple systems within the testing laboratory, including operations management, batch tracking and laboratory instruments.

Furthermore, the LIMS brought this integration into the field, where the system automates data transmission via handheld devices. Finally, the LIMS ensures that the facility constantly adheres to the highest standards of safety and quality. Pearl GTL’s testing program enables the world’s largest GTL facility to operate efficiently and safely while adhering to regulations and maintaining profitability, and the LIMS is the lynchpin that makes it possible. HP

The author
  Colin Thurston joined Thermo Fisher Scientific in 1996. He is the director of products strategy and process industries, and is responsible for determining the strategy of Thermo Fisher’s current informatics portfolio while identifying new market opportunities within the process industry sector. Mr. Thurston has worked for Thermo Fisher for the past 16 years in the sales, support and marketing of laboratory software. A graduate of Salford University in Manchester, UK, with a BSc degree in chemistry, Mr. Thurston began his career working in solid-state secondary lithium battery research. 

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