Gas-to-Liquids Processes for Chemicals and Energy Production

Published - Jan 2009| Analyst - Kevin Gainer| Code - EGY021B
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Report Highlights

  • The global market for GTL products was worth $4.4 billion in 2008. This is expected to reach $5.9 billion by the end of 2009 and $12.0 billion in 2014, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.3% from 2009 through 2014
  • Coal-to-liquids products have the largest share of the market, worth $2.5 billion in 2008 and an estimated $3.0 billion in 2009. This should grow at a CAGR of 15.0% to reach $6.0 billion in 2014.
  • GTL represent the second largest market segment, generating $1.8 billion in 2008. This is expected to reach $2.7 billion in 2009 and $5.0 billion in 2014, a CAGR of 13.0%.



The gas-to-liquids (GTL) business is involved in the chemical conversion of stranded natural gas feedstocks to liquid products such as transportation fuels and chemicals. Insofar as beneficial processing of the world’s huge resource base of stranded natural gas is concerned, GTL processing is a relatively recent R&D focus of the petrochemical industry. Development of commercial-scale GTL plants, utilizing stranded natural gas is a relatively recent development, too. Hence, the need for this BCC report.
Liquid GTL products are primarily transportation fuels (and are defined as synthetic fuels) and chemical feedstocks such as methanol, hydrogen, and other petrochemicals. As the terms are presently used in the petrochemical industry, “GTL” and “GTL products” refer mainly to the output of plants (or refineries) that utilize stranded natural gas as feedstock. For that reason, conventional production of chemicals, including high-volume methanol, typically via steam methane reforming (SMR) of non-stranded natural gas, is not a principal focus of this report.
The objective of this BCC Research report is to provide an up-to-date and critical evaluation of the most dynamic and path breaking aspects of GTL technology and describe how recent breakthroughs in conversion technology have made GTL products competitive with products refined from crude oil. This report discusses the use of GTL processes to produce ultra-clean diesel fuels and high-quality chemical products such as waxes. BCC assesses the role of GTL as an enabling technology for the production of clean transportation fuels.
A principal focus of the report are individual company initiatives and R&D focus, Discussed as well is the status of all major GTL projects around the world that utilize stranded gas. Included are descriptions of technologies and products, and a forecast of the GTL market through 2014. The report quantifies demand for GTL by type of output, application, and production technology. A significant component of this report analyzes competitive synthetic fuel concepts, as the commercial success of competitive synthetic fuel concepts will weigh heavily on the ultimate trajectory of the GTL business. These competitive fuels include those derived from coal-to-liquids (CTL) and biomass-to-liquids (BTL).
A significant amount of the world’s natural gas resources are stranded, far from existing markets. Gas-to-liquids technologies can economically convert these resources into high-quality, ultra-low sulfur fuels that can be transported to consumers or used in remote locations.
Fischer-Tropsch (FT) processing of synthesis gas has undergone significant improvements in reactor design and product recovery. This has enabled the economic use of stranded natural gas feedstocks in GTL production on the front-end (i.e., the stranded natural gas is the initial feedstock that yields synthesis gas that is then processed via FT). Therefore, GTL fuel production is in a relatively advanced stage of development, with commercial production well demonstrated in, for example, Qatar, Malaysia, and South Africa. Although synthetic fuels can be produced from a range of feedstocks—biomass, coal, and natural gas—the GTL process is at the most advanced stage of commercial development. In addition, GTL utilizes gas resources that either are flared or are currently unmarketable. Synthetic fuel production via GTL processing of stranded gas is approximately 100,000 barrels per day (bbl/d), and it is estimated that as many as 10 large-scale GTL plants will be in operation over the next decade, producing as much as 1 million barrels per day (Mbbl/d) of GTL products.
Nearly every major oil company has announced plans to investigate producing synthetic diesel fuel via a GTL process. However, a handful of companies, such as established GTL companies Sasol, Shell, Syntroleum, and Rentech, are the dominant producers. As discussed in this report, though, there are numerous “second-tier” companies that have sizable GTL support operations in engineering, design, plant construction, ancillaries, and related activities. Generally, research and development are improving the efficiency and economics of GTL production as well as quantifying the costs and benefits of production and use of GTL fuel in vehicles.
GTL derived fuels do have competition in the market, and these competitors include low-grade and synthetic petroleum (e.g., from tar sands in Canada) CTL, biofuels, electricity (EVs), and hydrogen. Although liquid fuels could be increasingly supplied by low-quality and synthetic petroleum, such as tar sands, due to the sheer size of readily accessible resources and the available technologies to turn such resources into liquid fuel, those fuels have much higher GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions than conventional petroleum, as well as GTL, and BCC predicts this will be a highly significant negative factor in terms of product demand. Currently, production capacity for fossil-based “alternative” fuels is about 2.5 Mbbl/d, of which the largest portion is tar sands and extra-heavy oil production. This, of course, far exceeds present GTL output.
These fossil-based “alternative” fuels now account for only 3% of global oil production but could double within the next 5 years. However, environmental mandates could be a significant force behind growing utilization of GTL for chemical and energy production. Higher-purity transportation fuels, such as ultra-low sulfur diesel, will become mandatory in most jurisdictions. GTL will offer both petroleum refiners and automakers flexibility to meet international agreements. In addition, GTL derived fuel may have a slight GHG emission advantage.
With its broad scope and in-depth analyses, this study will prove to be a valuable resource, particularly for anyone involved with or interested in the synthetic transportation fuels market. It will be particularly useful for researchers, laboratory and government personnel working in research or company settings, as well as business professionals, such as marketing managers, strategic planners, forecasters, new product and business developers, who are involved with most aspects of the liquids fuels industry. It also will be of value to potential investors and members of the general public who are interested in acquiring a business-oriented view of GTL and the synthetic fuels business. The projections, forecasts, and trend analyses found in this report provide readers with the necessary data and information for decision making.
In preparing this report, an overall study of the GTL market was undertaken. All areas of the GTL market are addressed, including identification of current and future technologies, product types, and market segments/end markets. Legislation and government and regulatory agency involvement are analyzed. The producing companies are discussed in light of technological strengths and weaknesses, market shares, marketing strengths, and innovative marketing practices.
This report, which is divided into seven sections, assesses and evaluates the demand and costs of GTL in the chemical and energy production markets. It begins with an overview that describes the importance of the GTL industry in relation to the overall U.S. economy, including a brief history and important indications for the GTL industry. Major products and applications are reviewed, and key findings from the study are presented.
Environmental and energy regulations as they apply to GTL are discussed. The structure of the GTL industry and competitive aspects are analyzed including the driving forces of the industry. Key strategies for staying competitive and important shifts in the industry are assessed. GTL industry trade practices and the impact of GTL on the oil industry are covered.
GTL markets by product type are evaluated, including synthetic fuels and chemicals. These are quantified with forecasts through 2014. Competing markets for gas are discussed including liquefied natural gas (LNG) and natural gas liquids (NGL). GTL technology is presented by covering patents and markets and investments by technology type. These technology types include Shell middle distillate synthesis (SMDS), Sasol slurry phase distillate (SSPD), Exxon’s advanced gas conversion technology 21st Century (AGC-21), Syntroleum process (SP), and Rentech. International GTL aspects also are considered, and major overseas companies involved in GTL processes and their activities also are assessed.
Data for this study were collected using both primary and secondary data research techniques. A literature search was conducted covering scientific, business and technical documents as well as patents. Since some segments of the GTL market are not routinely measured, BCC derived estimates from a variety of sources. Whenever market estimates are derived, they are fully noted. All forecasts are in current (nominal) dollars, unadjusted for inflation. Information sources include trade data (national and international), company literature, conference reports, world trade technical journals, and interviews with company representatives.
Research analyst Kevin Gainer is the former Managing Editor of the BCC Research quarterly publication, Energy. He holds both B.A. and M.A. degrees in quantitative economic analysis, and has 25 years of economics and market research experience including 9 years as an energy analyst at American Electric Power Corp. He is the author of five published books and dozens of technical papers, analyses, and studies published in conference proceedings and many unpublished within corporations. He has worked as research editor at BCC Research, and has authored several BCC technology market research reports.

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Published - Oct-2000| Analyst - Edward Gobina| Code - EGY021A

Report Highlights

  • Natural gas liquids (NGLs) also will show an increase in demand growth. Between 1999 and 2004, NGLs will show demand growth with an AAGR of 5.9% per year as gas processing improves.
  • Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) gas-to-liquids (GTL) represent the largest demand base for GTLs. In 2004, this category will represent 94.2% of total GTL demand. In the next five years (1999-2004), F-T GTL fuels demand will grow at an AAGR of 5.7% per year under new environmental legislation for clean transportation fuels that became effective in January 2000.


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