By Adrienne Blume
HOUSTON -- Gulf Publishing
Company's inaugural Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) Technology Forum and
exhibit took place from July 3031. Speakers and attendees
shared knowledge on gas processing technology developments, project economics and business
challenges, with a focus on GTL processing technologies. The
event, which featured five technical sessions and two keynote
speakers, was sponsored by Honeywell and drew over 160
attendees representing 96 companies from 10 countries.
Networking lunches and
refreshment breaks in the Forum's exhibit space allowed
delegates to discuss business strategies over coffee and
desserts, and learn more about the technology and data management
solutions offered by conference exhibitors Pentair, Forum
Energy Technologies, AMACS and Construction Boxscore Database. A
complete recap of the 2013 GTL event can be read below:
1. The Forum opened on Tuesday, July 30, with a keynote speech by Mark
Schnell (see photo), the general manager of
marketing, strategy, and new business development for Sasol, on
the role of GTL in the new North American energy landscape. Mr.
Schnell called it an "exciting time to be in the North American
gas business" for those on the demand side of the equation. He
addressed three major topics, including Sasol's progress on its
GTL plant in Louisiana, the company's experience on its GTL
journey, and where GTL might fit into the energy landscape
Sasol's proposed GTL complex in
Lake Charles would have a capacity of 96 thousand barrels per
day (Mbpd) and be co-located next to an existing ethylene
cracker. GTL startup is presently targeted for 2019, although
the final investment decision in 2014 will be based largely on
economics. During a conference break, Mr. Schnell told
Hydrocarbon Processing that he
expects as many as 6 or 7, and at least 4 to 5, of the proposed
ethylene cracker projects in the US to move forward. The Sasol
GTL plant would produce GTL diesel, naphtha, specialty
paraffins, waxes and lubricant base oils, making it the first
facility in the US to manufacture GTL transportation fuels and
Mr. Schnell also addressed some
of the challenges of the evolving GTL sector, noting that, at
present, "Commercial capacity is in the hands of a few
companies." The addition of more players would offer improved
security of supply, greater advocacy for alternative fuel
policies and more security for original equipment
manufacturers. "To be truly taken seriously, [GTL] will have to
become an industry, rather than a handful of clients or
players," Mr. Schnell acknowledged. "It's up to us as business
and technology providers to step up and provide solutions."
Session 1. The first session opened with a
presentation by Srinivasan Ambatipati of R3
Sciences on the development of modular technology for
gas-to-methanol conversion. Mr. Ambatipati
emphasized the need to utilize flared gas, which totaled 5
trillion cubic feet (Tcf) worldwide in 2011. R3 Sciences'
gas-to-methanol (G2M) technology uses a
three-step process, involving authothermal reforming and
synthesis gas (syngas) conditioning, to produce methanol.
Next, Dr. Ronald
Sills of the XTL & DME Institute presented his
view on the use of dimethyl ether (DME) as a transportation
fuel in North America. Dr. Sills named the three major fuel
applications of DME as LPG blendstock, power generation and
transportation fuel. On this last point, he noted that Volvo is
the first vehicle manufacturer to announce plans to
commercialize DME-powered heavy-duty trucks in North America,
which will happen as early as 2015. "DME is safe, inexpensive
to store, simple to transport and does not require cryogenic or
high-pressure storage," Dr. Sills acknowledged. Although DME is
cheaper than diesel, offering compelling economics, the
large-scale production of DME will be needed to encourage the
availability of DME-compatible vehicles, he said.
Dr. Carl Hahn
from Pentair then spoke about reducing capital and
operating expenditures (CAPEX and OPEX, respectively) through
more effective separation technologies. Dr. Hahn outlined the
major challenges to the commercial viability of GTL as high
capital intensity, high investment risk and cashflow
constraints. Conventional separation technology can cause
operational problems in GTL plants, although Pentair offers its
Polarex technology as an extractive separation technology that
can be used in lieu of a conventional contactor.
Nearing the end of the first
session was a presentation on small-scale GTL as an economic
solution for distributed gas by Dr. Paul
Schubert, CEO of Velocys. Dr. Schubert acknowledged a
growing set of small- to medium-scale prospects, with five
small-scale GTL technology clients progressing to the
engineering stage since the start of 2013, along with 19
companies in the pre-engineering stage. Potential applications
for small-scale GTL in North America include gas flaring,
diversification for midstream companies and refinery integration. From there,
Anindita Moitra of Indian Oil Corp. finished off
the session with a presentation on off-balance sheet project risk management.
Session 2. After a lunch and dessert break that
generated numerous networking opportunities for attendees, the
second session kicked off with an insightful talk by
Tara Fatima of Bechtel Hydrocarbon Technology Solutions Inc. on
low-cost opportunities for methanol-to-olefins (MTO) and
methanol-to-propylene (MTP). Ms. Fatima acknowledged that MTO
technologies are competitive with traditional steam cracking
only when there is a reasonable price spread between gas and
oil (i.e., $4/MMBtu or less for gas, and $80$90/bbl or
more for crude oil). This makes MTO and MTP technologies
largely uneconomical in the US, but viable in the Middle
Next, V. K.
Arora of Kinetics Process Improvements Inc. gave a
talk on the advances and challenges of syngas preparation. Mr.
Arora reviewed the advantages and disadvantages of major syngas
technologies, including steam methane reforming, autothermal
reforming, partial oxidation, convective reforming, two-step
reforming and prereforming. In addition, he discussed the major
hurdles for GTL operations in North America, specifically those
concerning process complexity, process efficiency, economic
challenges and longer financing requirements.
Session 3. ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Co.'s
Mitch Hindman led off the third session with a
presentation on ExxonMobil's methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) technology as an alternative for
liquid fuel production. The technology, which is a fixed-bed
process that produces sulfur-free gasoline with 92-RON octane,
was first commercialized in 1985 in New Zealand. There are
currently seven licenses for MTG technology around the world,
according to Mr. Hindman.
A panel discussion followed that
included Honeywell's Randy Miller, Invensys'
Bill Poe, Emerson Process Management's
Chuck Miller, and Aspen Technology's
Michael Harmse. The panelists discussed
various aspects of process control challenges for GTL,
including the link between process control and operator
competency, online modeling for GTL applications, process and
safety requirements with regard to automation systems, cyber
security concerns, the benefits of standardization of
small-scale plants, and the need for dynamic simulation and
remote monitoring technologies to ensure proper operation of
DAY 2. The second day of the GTL Technology
Forum began with a keynote address by Iain
Baxter, the director of business development at
CompactGTL in the UK. Mr. Baxter spoke about transformational
gas solutions for the upstream industry and the problems
inherent in conventional GTL operations. He noted that there
are only a handful of companies with the experience and
technology expertise to design large-scale GTL plants. These
companies tend to be large, integrated energy firms and are
often protective of their intellectual property.
However, CompactGTL's compact
reforming technology for syngas generation provides fully
modular GTL production in a range of design capacities, from 10
MMscfd to 150 MMscfd. The company is presently working with
Petrobras, Total, Gazprom and 17 other companies around the
world for small-scale GTL projects, both onshore and
Session 4. The fourth session kicked off with a
discussion by Dr. Uday Turaga of ADI Analytics
LLC on benchmarking gas monetization opportunities. Dr. Turaga
explained that, in North America, LNG export projects offer the
most attractive returns, followed by MTG and GTL projects. He
also emphasized the need for creative thinking during the
commercial structuring of a GTL project to reduce CAPEX and
the director of Hydrocarbon Processing's Construction Boxscore
database, followed by offering a recap of the global
construction outlook for GTL projects. Mr. Nichols noted that
Construction Boxscore is tracking
over 800 gas processing projects globally.
Barnett of BD Energy Systems LLC discussed reformer
furnace outlet systems and needed improvements to conventional
steam methane reformer furnaces. Mr. Barnett noted that
conventional practices apply a design temperature of 50°F
for outlook system components, which is not adequate for GTL or
ammonia plant reforming. The final speaker of the session was
Dr. Dave Sams of Albemarle Corp., who
explained how Albemarle's MA-15 catalyst aids in the
thermochemical conversion of syngas to ethanol.
Session 5. The fifth and final session of the
conference opened with a discussion by Dr. George
Boyajian of Primus Green Energy (see photo)
on the cost-effectiveness of Primus' STG+ GTL technology, which
enables the conversion of natural gas to drop-in liquid fuels
on a small scale. Robert Hermann of Robert P.
Herrmann LP next discussed the use of a gas lift apparatus for
a Fischer-Tropsch production riser.
Following these presentations,
John Oyen of ABB Inc. spoke about
next-generation facilities, with emphases on trends
in automation and improvements in control room technology, and
how these developments can enhance operations at GTL facilities. Mr. Oyen said operating
and maintenance personnel aging out and
the problem of replacing them requires new methodologies in
electrical and process control (high degree of integration and the use of
procedural control ISA106) as well as tight integration with Asset Information
Management and CMMS systems.
Worley of Worley Engineers Inc. discussed the design
requirements for floating vessels intended for offshore GTL
production. Mr. Worley advised the use of a proven floating
production, storage and offloading (FPSO)-style vessel, or an
alternative proven design, to minimize sea motion at floating
GTL (FGTL) projects.
CEO and Gulf Publishing Company (see photo below),
concluded the conference by thanking attendees for their
participation and input. "We anticipate some major market
changes by the time [the conference is held next year],"
especially in compact and small-scale GTL technologies, Mr.
Gulf Publishing Company's second
annual GTL Technology Forum will be held in Houston in
Photo 1: Sasol's Mark Schnell opened the GTL
Technology Forum on Day 1 with a keynote speech on the role of
GTL in North America.
Photo 2: Dr.
George Boyajian of Primus Green Energy discussed the
cost-effectiveness of Primus' STG+ small-scale GTL technology on Day 2.
Photo 3: John
Royall (left), CEO of Gulf Publishing Company, and keynote
speaker Mark Schnell (right), general manager of marketing,
strategy, and new business development for Sasol.