(Editor's note: see video at end of story for our
exclusive interview with Sasol's Mark Schnell.)
HOUSTON -- Sasol is emphasizing a diversified product
portfolio as it continues to map out plans for the new gas-to-liquids
(GTL) project at its complex in Lake
Charles, Louisiana, a company executive said Tuesday.
In the keynote address at the inaugural GTL Technology Forum, Mark Schnell noted
that initial GTL proposals from the 1970s were designed
primarily to produce diesel and naphtha.
But in the modern energy landscape is offering additional
opportunities for the GTL industry, explained Schnell, who
serves as Sasols general manager for marketing, strategy
and new business development.
In Louisiana, were trying to diversity
significantly, Schnell said. On the heavy end, that
means looking at specialty waxes and lubricant base oils. On
the lighter side, paraffins can be ideal feedstocks for
Sasol is expected to make a final investment decision on the
new Louisiana project in 2014, after the
engineering and design review is finished. The plant is
estimated to cost near $15 billion, making it about three times
as expensive as a new traditional refinery. However, the ability of a
GTL plant to directly tie into the affordable market for
gas feedstocks could easily offset those
The plant's two phases would start operations in 2019 and
2020, becoming the first facility in the US to
produce GTL transportation fuels and other products.
Schnell noted that a diversified product slate might not make
sense for units in other locations such as the Middle East,,
where Sasol operates a 34,000 bpd GTL facility in Qatar. But
the mainland US is a major consumer of those items, and Sasol
is adjusting its strategy accordingly.
The wax market is somewhat limited, while the base
oils market is slightly larger, he said.
Even so, Sasol is still keeping a close eye on the domestic
diesel market as well. Diesel produced through the GTL process
is cleaner than conventional diesel, Schnell explained,
particularly given that it is zero-sulfur.
Globally, diesel remains the workhorce for economic
growth, he said. Diesel growth is consistently
outstripping other petroleum grades, and our expectation is
that trend will continue.
In addition, it is becoming more difficult for
conventional refining to meet the required
product mix, not to mention the increasing requirements for
stricter fuel quality standards, he added.
If current projects are built, GTL processes
would supply under 2% of the diesel market. But
Schnell notes that if supplied locally or regionally, GTL
diesel could have bigger impact.
GTL could be the ideal solution to fill the growing
diesel gap, Schnell said. Sufficient product is
there to justify significant engine development around GTL
The question is whether the market will ultimately
prioritize clean diesel, thus giving GTL companies like Sasol
the economic incentive to produce it in higher quantities.
Factors that may spur development, according to Schnell,
include tighter emissions policy measures, an increasing
desire for domestic energy security and the need to move away
from crude oil feedstock.
The availability of affordable natural
gas is unprecedented on the global stage, Schnell
said. Its on us to step up as a business and
GTL products are unique, with higher quality than
conventional equivalents, he added. The challenge
is how to best position these products to capture that
Sasol isnt the only major company to target the US
market for new GTL plants. Shell has also said it is considering a new project in Louisiana,
with a final decision likely by the end of the year.
There are now two big players looking at sizable
plants in the US, Schnell said. As long as gas
remains competitively priced in the US, the opportunity for
large-scale GTL investments is there. Its a matter of who
is going to provide the technology and step up and make
The inaugural GTL Technology Forum continues through
Wednesday at the Houston CityCentre.