Large untapped gas reserves, new clean fuels regulations and recent technology developments have again raised interest in gas-to-liquids (GTL). The basic processes for converting natural gas into liquid hydrocarbons have existed for many decades. Although Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch discovered the key process step in 1923, the technology has been rarely used commercially and has mainly been applied to synthesis gas produced from coal. However, in the last twenty to thirty years, much more attention has been focused to use the process on stranded natural gas.
Since Fischer and Tropsch’s discovery, interest in applying the processes commercially have waxed and waned depending on oil prices, the perception of oil reserves and advances in technology. In the past, political considerations were more important than economics in establishing GTL complexes. However, technical advancements, economic forces and the rapid increases in natural gas reserves place GTL on the verge of commercialization. There are a number of plants in various stages of development today.
ConocoPhillips began its GTL research in 1997 when DuPont owned Conoco. That research began with FT catalyst development. However, through process and economic reviews, it became apparent that lower cost syngas is critical to the success of GTL technology. ConocoPhillips has developed novel technology for syngas, FT and hydroprocessing production that enables a higher efficiency process. After six years of research, ConocoPhillips is now commissioning a demonstration scale plant.