HOUSTON -- Gulf Publishing Company's second annual
Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) Technology Forum opened on July 30 and
concluded on Thursday, July 31. Speakers and attendees shared
insight on gas processing technology developments, project economics and business
challenges. A full news recap of technical sessions and photo
gallery are included below:
DAY 2 SESSION ROUNDUP
Day 2 of the second annual GTL Technology Forum, which drew
nearly 200 attendees from the US and a number of other
countries, opened with an ExxonMobil-sponsored networking
breakfast in the exhibition hall. Exhibitors Pentair,
Siemens, AMACS, Walter Tosto and Ariel discussed their
products and services with forum delegates over coffee,
pastries and fruit.
EIA assessment of US GTL. After the
breakfast, Vishakh Mantri of the US Energy Information
Administration (EIA) delivered a keynote presentation on
the economics of GTL conversion technologies.
Dr. Mantri reviewed the EIA's Annual Energy Outlook
research methodology and how the government body makes its
projections. He then discussed why natural gas is an ideal
fossil fuel in terms of emissions
, sulfur content and
available infrastructure, and what other fuels are
competing with GTL fuels. Competing fuels include petroleum
fuels refined from crude oil, CNG, LNG, and plant-based biofuel
Dr. Mantri also talked about the EIA's categorization of
projects. Greenfield projects require full development of
land and infrastructure prior to the start of construction
, and all process
units, including utilities, are part of the project. CO2
emissions and water disposal are included in pricing.
On the other hand, infrastructure is usually already in
place at brownfield developments. Minimum land preparation
is required, and utilities may be shared. Dr. Mantri also
emphasized that high capital cost is a major roadblock to
profitable production of liquid fuels at GTL plants in the
Ammonia from offgas. Dr.
Mantri's keynote was followed by a presentation by V.K.
Arora, director of process and operations for Kinetics
Process Improvements Inc., on the economics of ammonia
production from offgases. As Mr. Arora explained, ammonia
production from offgases is a well-known process, but it is
not widely practiced.
The shale gas boom has produced excess ethane, spurring
producers to crack more ethane to make ethylene. In the US,
eight new ethane crackers are planned for construction,
with startup dates between 2016 and 2018. More hydrogen has
been produced with increased ethane cracking, enabling
greater output of low-cost ammonia.
However, this scenario has resulted in the loss of
propylene and heavier products. The industry has responded
with on-demand propylene production, with plans to build
more propane dehydrogenation (PDH) units. Six PDH units are
in the works, with a total capacity of more than 3.5 MMtpy.
Process options for ammonia production include pressure
swing adsorption, nitrogen wash, secondary reforming,
secondary reforming with O2 enrichment, and secondary
reforming with gas-heated reforming. Each process option
has pros and cons, Mr. Arora explained.
The ammonia production potential from each process scheme
varies, with the highest production coming from secondary
reforming of ethane, using either O2 enrichment or
gas-heated reformingtwo processes that are relatively
new to the marketplace. The two new processes also yield environment
al benefits, such as
a 33% reduction in NOX emissions from the source
Session 4: Emerging technology. The
fourth session, which was chaired by Syamal Podder,
president of Podder & Associates, was opened by Peter
Tjim, CTO of Standard Alcohol Co. of America Inc. Dr. Tjim
explained how mixed alcohols can be used as oxygenates and
A solution to RFS and the gas glut.
Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires the blending of
increasing amounts of biofuels into domestic gasoline and
diesel supplies through 2022, is under scrutiny, as it is
reducing gasoline demand and hurting the US refining
industry. Dr. Tjim
suggested that the market, rather than political forces, be
allowed to determine how fuel supply should be diversified.
Due to massive oversupply of natural gas in the US from
unlocked shale gas reserves, domestic gas prices are
expected to remain depressed well into the future, making
gas uneconomical to produce. A solution to these issues is
to produce drop-in, Environment
Agency-approved alternative oxygenates, additives and fuel
extenders from natural gas, thereby reducing emissions and
supporting the refining
Mixed alcohols produced from natural gas are biodegradable
in soil and water, not crop dependent like biofuel
s, require less energy to
produce than crop-based ethanol
, result in fewer vehicle
tailpipe emissions, and are produced through a carbon
-neutral process, Dr. Tjim
explained. Standard Alcohol, which has been testing its
catalysts at its partners' labs for several years, is in
the process of planning its first commercial mixed alcohol
The MTG alternative. Following Dr. Tjim's
talk, Terry Helton, catalyst product manager in technology
sales and licensing for ExxonMobil Research and Engineering
(EMRE), shared details on methanol-to-gasoline (MTG)
technology as an updated alternative for liquid fuel
The MTG process, which produces 87-octane, pipeline-grade
gasoline with extremely low benzene content and no sulfur,
is a demonstrated technology that is offered by a number of
commercial technology providers. The process can be easily
integrated into an existing methanol plant with the
addition of an intermediate tank, Dr. Helton
EMRE has made significant advancements in the
implementation of MTG technology since its inception
decades ago, and it recently acquired a number of new
licenses for the process.
Session 5: Catalysts. The catalysts
session was chaired by the author, following a packed
networking lunch. Avinash Karre, process engineer at Jacobs
Engineering, talked about the effect of adding zeolite to
iron-based catalysts for Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis.
Cobalt catalysts are costly compared to iron catalysts, Mr.
In his research, he compared an activated carbon base
catalyst to a ZSM-5 catalyst, in both separate-bed and
mixed-bed formations. ZSM-5 catalysts favor cracking
reactions. Productivities were found to be lower in a
mixed-bed arrangement vs. a single-bed arrangement. Some
metals migration may be present in the ZSM-5 catalyst,
which could account for the lower productivity, Mr. Karre
FT reactor downsizing with new catalyst.
Tom Holcombe, president and CEO of Green Impact Fuels, then
summarized the new CatFT process. Challenges in the
Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process include heat management, tight
control of catalyst temperature, scalability to small
applications, productivity of cobalt catalysts and
reduction of capital costs. The US Air Force, which funded
the construction of the first CatFT pilot plant, is working
with Green Impact Fuels to design small, modular, mobile
The benefits of the CatFT design, Dr. Holcombe explained,
include a thin catalyst coating, which requires less catalyst
at a lower cost; heat conductivity by fins, which results in
faster heat removal and tight temperature control; lower gas
velocities, which give lower pressure drop through the
reactor and enable the use of a smaller, shorter reactor and
smaller compressors; as well as lower CAPEX and OPEX,
particularly with regard to off-the-shelf evaporators. The
process is also scalable to smaller applications, with proven
profitability at plants as small as 100 bpd.
Advances in fixed-bed reactors. Lastly, Vice
President of Gas Conversion for Johnson Matthey (JM) Davy
Technologies Ltd., Tim Gamlin, spoke on the topics of
fixed-bed reaction systems for FT technology and JM Davy's
collaboration with BP on its demonstration plant in Nikiski,
JM Davy's compact reformer is characterized by several
advantages, including modular and factory-built equipment
that can be shipped as a bundle and which generates low NOX
. Mr. Gamlin also
emphasized the lack of catalyst movement in the fixed-bed
The company has succeeded in increasing catalyst
productivity, improving C5+ selectivity and extending
catalyst life for its reactor system. Among the areas for
improvement in fixed-bed FT is the relatively large size and
weight of the reactors, which can be problematic for
land-locked sites with little access to water, Mr. Gamlin
. The forum's final session included an
overview of global GTL construction projects by Lee Nichols,
director of Gulf Publishing Company's data division, as well
as a panel discussion on modular construction
, moderated by Mr.
Nichols. Panelists included Raj Suri, president of
EmberClear; Jeff McDaniel, commercial director of Velocys;
and Iain Baxter, COO of CompactGTL.
GTL project roundup.
Mr. Nichols explained
that the US has far surpassed the rest of the world in new
gas processing project announcements, with 39% of the global
share in 2014. Asia-Pacific, which saw the second-highest
percentage of new project announcements in 2014, is expected
to surpass Europe
as the world's
second-largest gas market within a few years.
At present, there are four commercial-sized GTL projects in
operation around the world, with two more in development.
However, the major trend seen in the US for GTL operations is
small-scale projects. Thirteen GTL projects are in the works
along the Gulf Coast, in the Northeast, and in the Midwest
and West. Additionally, small-scale GTL developments are
planned outside of the US in Kazakhstan, Russia, Canada,
Bolivia and Brazil.
The path to GTL development. During the
panel discussion, Mr. Suri addressed questions of
practicality for GTL developments, including financing in the
face of questions about technology viability, gas price
volatility and production economics. Mr. Baxter agreed that
challenges remain. "I don't, in fact, think GTL is taking off
yet in North America," he said.
Mr. Baxter also referred to Mr. Gamlin's presentation on new
developments in conventional FT, noting the need for a
"mid-scale technology to fill the gap between small-scale GTL
and world-scale GTL" to help GTL gain traction in the US
Meanwhile, Mr. McDaniel touted small-scale GTL as the primary
trend in GTL today. He sees growing opportunities for
additional GTL project
s after the main challenges
to developmentmany of which were raised by forum
speakersare addressed and solved.
GTL Technology Forum 2015.
Stephany Romanow, editor of Hydrocarbon Processing
attendees, speakers and the advisory board for making the
second GTL Technology Forum a success. The third annual GTL
Technology Forum will be held in summer 2015 in Houston.
DAY 1 SESSION ROUNDUP
Session 1: Syngas. The technology
sessions of the Day 1 agenda kicked off with an
introduction by V. K. Arora, director of process and
operations at Kinetics Process Improvements, who served as
the session chair for the syngas portion of the program.
. In one part of the
syngas session, Soren Martin Olsen, sales manager for
Haldor Topsøe, talked about autothermal reforming
(ATR) as a preferred technology
for the conversion of
natural gas to syngas in industrial GTL applications. The
price gap between gas and oil is rising, so the incentive
for converting gas into chemicals and transportation
fuelssuch as methanol, gasoline and dieselis
increasing, Mr. Olsen explained.
ATR technology, which has been in industrial operation for
over 10 years, includes optimized catalysts and loading
schemes. The world's top ATR units are in operation at the
Oryx GTL plant in Qatar. Improvements to the ATR technology
have been continuously implemented. Today, both the
technology and operation are stable and robust, with good
carbon efficiency and an excellent onstream factor, Mr.
Turboexpander syngas generation. Dr.
Steven Fusselman, program manager of energy services for
Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Dr. Arunabha Basu of the Gas
Technology Institute (GTI), co-presented on partial
oxidation gas turbine-based syngas generation technology
for GTL applications. This technology describes the
replacement of the waste boiler with a rotating machine
(i.e., the turboexpander) at a high temperature.
GTI's patented Turbo-POX GTL process, which operates under
significantly higher pressure than conventional systems,
features improved overall efficiency and lower liquid
production costs. In the turboexpander, regenerator-cooled
stator blades provide higher system efficiency than
film-cooled blades. The existing design is sized for 1 Mbpd
of liquids production capacity. "The POX unit was designed
with an eye toward simplification. As we know, these units
don't scale down that gracefully," Mr. Fusselman
Dr. Basu discussed the techno-economics of the Turbo-POX
technology. Key advantages for Turbo-POX vs. catalytic ATR
are the close-coupled POX reactor and expander, which are
ideal for shop fabrication and modular small-scale GTL
plants. Also, no catalytic pre-reformer and no catalyst are
needed for the POX reactor.
The technical sessions were punctuated by a well-attended
buffet lunch, where delegates engaged in technology and
business discussions over hearty beef and fish dishes, as
well as light salads and pastas, and cheesecake and coffee
Integrating small-scale GTL.
vice president of process technology at Fluor, spoke about
the feasibility of mega-GTL vs. small-scale GTL, and how
small-scale GTL can be integrated into existing refining
Various considerations for a generic large-scale GTL plant
configuration include carbon emissions
and capture, water
supply and treating, byproducts (i.e., alcohols, naphtha
and LPG) and alternative higher-value products (i.e., waxes
and lube oils).
Mr. Koppel compared financial returns for large-scale GTL
projects in operation to small-scale project estimates,
listing revenues for Pearl GTL, Sasol in Louisiana and a
GTL project in Uzbekistan. Small-scale projects give high
per-barrel returns, although their small capacities limit
the amount of money that can be made from the fuels
produced. Large-scale plants have good per-barrel returns
and large capacities that guarantee high revenues.
Small-scale projects take a fraction of the time to
construct as do large-scale plants.
To keep capital expenditure (CAPEX) costs low for
small-scale GTL, a simplified process scheme is preferred.
Location questions must also be answered. Should the plant
be remote and operate as a standalone unit, or can it use
infrastructure and utilities from an existing facility?
As Iain Baxter did in his keynote address, Mr. Koppel
examined factors holding up the widespread implementation
of small-scale GTL. Gas producers and banks are often
unwilling to take a risk on new entrepreneurial project
developers without large capital sources or large balance
sheets to support financing, especially for new,
non-commercialized Fischer-Tropsch (FT) GTL technologies.
However, when small-scale GTL facilities
are placed inside an
existing facility, there is the possibility of excess
syngas capacity for GTL operations, the potential
availability of CO2, the availability of an existing
hydrocracker for upgrading, and the availability of
existing utilities, offsites and services. These advantages
make the implementation of small-scale GTL projects within
existing refineries and petrochemical
plants a good
solution, Mr. Koppel said.
Session 2: Non-FT GTL.
lunch break, the day continued with a session on the future
of non-FT GTL. Session chair Stephany Romanow, editor of
introduced Dr. Michael Schultz, vice president of
engineering at LanzaTech Inc., who spoke about a biological
route for converting waste CO2 into fuels and chemicals.
Gas fermentation can be integrated with methane conversion
in LanzaTech's proprietary process, as has been shown in
six successful technology demonstrations at industrial
sites in New Zealand, Asia and the US.
The company is working on its first commercial plant with
BaoSteel in China. The initial target for commercial
production is approximately 70 M gal of gasoline equivalent
per day of ethanol
, at a gas cost of around
"We really look at this approach as a way of industrial
growth," Mr. Schultz said. "We know that growth needs to
continue, and the question is, how can we do so
sustainably, in a way that doesn't compete for land and
which allows emerging economies to grow."
Drop-in GTL fuels at small scale. Next,
Dr. George Boyajian, vice president of business development
for Primus Green Energy, spoke about the conversion of
natural gas into drop-in liquid fuels at small scale. Mr.
Boyajian opened his talk by noting that his meetings at the
inaugural GTL Technology Forum in 2013 led to important
developments for which Primus will be making announcements
in the near future. "As an unsolicited testimony ... You
can get deals done at this meeting," Mr. Boyajian asserted.
Primus is eyeing the startup of its first commercial plant
in 2016, which will use syngas feedstock
to produce drop-in
synthesis gasoline. Primus is also developing gas-based
diesel fuel in the lab, which it will scale up to the
demonstration-plant scale in the near future.
The company has gathered important results from its first
demonstration plant in New Jersey. "We've reduced the piece
count in our plant by 50%. So, that means fewer things to
go wrong and lower capital costs," Mr. Boyajian attested.
which was originally thought to be essential to operation,
has been removed from the plant design.
With greater than 99% availability, the demonstration plant
produced more than 6 M gal of high-octane gasoline, with no
off-spec product. Additionally, it recorded no process
downtime, with the exception of a compressor repair. Primus
expects catalyst regeneration to be required only once a
The products from the plant contain zero sulfur and zero
benzene, and they fit ASTM specifications for gasoline. The
units are built on skids and then shipped to the site.
Studies have shown that the Primus process is the most
cost-effective process, in terms of CAPEX and OPEX, for
capacities of under 6 Mbpd, Mr. Boyajian said. The plants
can consist of units with capacities of 2 Mbpd in several
trains, as 2 Mbpd is the largest-capacity reactor that can
fit under a highway overpass.
FT vs. non-FT. Closing out the second
session, Ajey Chandra, managing director for Muse, Stancil
& Co. in Houston, talked about FT GTL vs. non-FT GTL.
Mr. Chandra acknowledged that the growing demand for
high-quality fuels, coupled with an increase in gas supply,
is enabling GTL technology to change the energy landscape.
FT processes dominate existing projects, but there are some
new, non-FT technologies and projects coming to the
industry. There will be a race for commercialization,
especially in light of the gas price volatility seen in the
US over the last 10 years. It is critical to examine
between the liquid products and the gas value in
determining GTL economics, Mr. Chandra said. Capital cost
considerations for a standalone GTL plant are highly
dependent on technology selection, project size, project
location and other factors.
The director also noted that many of the drop-in GTL diesel
fuels being produced today are better used as blendstocks,
based on their specifications. In fact, blending with other
fuels may be a more lucrative route for drop-in fuel
producers, he said. In the US diesel market, there is
demand growth and opportunity for only the highest-quality
products, especially with regard to exports.
"Right now is one of the best times we have to do these GTL
projects because of the fact that we've got shale gas," Mr.
Chandra said, in closing. However, he also advised
investors to study how long shale gas drilling will
continue, and whether gas prices will remain stable and
Session 3: Small-scale developments.
Syamal Podder, president of Poddar & Associates, chaired
the last session of the day on new developments in
smaller-scale GTL. Jeff McDaniel, the commercial director of
Velocys, opened the session with a talk on smaller-scale GTL
production from microchannel FT reactors. He shared the
latest results from the company's pilot plant operations and
discussed joint venture developments.
The results from Velocys' integrated GTL pilot plant in Ohio
show good catalyst productivity and stable temperature
results over 1,000 hours of operation, with one shutdown at
around 500 hours for a steam system repair.
Additionally, Velocys is working with Waste Management, NRG
Energy and Ventech Engineering to develop GTL fuels from
landfill gas in the US, UK, Canada and China. A final
investment decision was made in July to go ahead with the
first demonstration plant, which will be built in Oklahoma.
Velocys is also collaborating with Ventech on an integrated
modular GTL diesel production unit.
Velocys is also developing a 2.8-Mbpd brownfield plant with
Ashtabula GTL, and a 2.5-Mbpd biomass-to-liquids plant with
Red Rock Biofuel
s to produce jet fuel.
Lastly, the company is targeting a US Department of Defense
grant for another biomass-to-liquids project, for which a
decision will be made in August.
GTL project wrap-up.
The two final speakers
of the day were Raj Suri, president of EmberClear, and Walter
Breidenstein, CEO of Gas Technologies LLC. Mr. Suri gave an
update on a GTL project in Natchez, Mississippi. EmberClear,
a project development company, specializes in the fast
turnaround of energy project
s of 18 months or less.
Mr. Breidenstein closed out Day 1 with a short presentation
on Gas Technologies LLC's single-step gas-to-methanol
technology, which is
designed to help solve the gas flaring problem in North
Dakota. The "well-to-wheel" solution is low-cost, portable
and addresses 100% of the flare, Mr. Breidenstein
PHOTO GALLERY, Day 1 & Day 2
Thursday's panelists discussed advances in modular GTL
construction. From left to
Raj Suri, president of
EmberClear; Iain Baxter,
executive director of CompactGTL;
and Jeff McDaniel, commercial director of
Peter Tijm, chief technology officer
of Standard Alcohol Company, discussed
of mixed alcohols as an oxygenate and fuel extender
during Thursday's Session Four.
The US Energy Information
Administration's (EIA) Vishakh
Mantri gave Thursday's
keynote address regarding the economic outlook of
GTL conversion technologies.
Iain Baxter, executive director of
CompactGTL, delivered Wednesday's
The Magnolia Room was packed for Wednesday morning's
GTL Technology Forum
Thomas M. Jones of
Bechtel offered tips for monetizing
North American natural gas.
Delegates listened intently as a lineup of top
GTL industry executives spoke on Wednesday.
Soren Martin Olsen, sales manager at
Haldor Topsoe, shared insight on
Dr. Steven Fusselman of
Aerojet Rocketdyne discussed partial
oxidation in GTL applications.
LanzaTech vice president Dr.
Michael Schultz analyzed CO2 and CO
Dr. George Boyajian of
Primus Green Energy wants drop-in liquid
fuels via GTL processes.
Walter Breidenstein, CEO of
Gas Technologies, shared what's new in