Gas-to-liquid (GTL) technology is the process of converting natural gas to synthetic hydrocarbon liquids, or syngas, as an intermediate step toward production of valuable liquid fuels such as diesel or methanol. The processes make use of what might be wasted, and liquid gas is more easily, safely and less expensively transported than methane or natural gas.
The demand for natural gas, which is emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal, is expected to increase worldwide. The global market will pass the 4 trillion cubic meters mark by 2022, an average yearly growth rate of 1.6 percent, says the International Energy Agency (IEA). By 2019, the IEA predicts that China will become the largest natural gas importer, with growth of 8 percent annually through 2023.
But much usable natural gas is abandoned or disposed of, often at considerable expense to the producer and the environment. The problem is not getting the gas out of the ground, it’s finding an efficient, affordable and environmentally responsible way to get it to market. Stranded gas, located far from existing transportation infrastructure, is simply left in the ground. Associated gas, which is gas produced along with oil, is often re-injected back into the reservoir, which is costly, or is disposed of by flaring, a process that not only is wasteful, but also produces carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming.
Traditional GTL plants operate on a large scale and cost billions of dollars to build, but new technology has been developed that allows for the building of small-scale GTL operations that can be assembled in remote locations to produce liquid fuels or are more appropriate for smaller-scale projects. These plants are less expensive, flexible and modular, so they can be constructed where they can make use of associated gas and large fields of stranded gas, producing easy-to-transport liquid fuel.
While still relatively new, smaller-scale GTL technology is moving into the mainstream. The first commercial GTL plant of this kind, using modular technology with microchannel reactors, was launched by ENVIA Energy in 2014 near Oklahoma City, using landfill gas and waste biomass. The plant’s modules have a standardized design that can integrate with existing buildings but also can be scaled to meet the need of the target resource.
As the market for natural gas continues to grow, particularly in Asia, where the demand for cleaner energy is sought as a curb on air pollution, small-scale GTL plants offer an alternative to conventional technologies that require large-scale facilities.
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