Qatar plans to turn natural gas into diesel

| 2/16/2005

A Middle Eastern country in the heart of the world’s largest oil-producing region is embarking on what may be one of the largest alternative fuel experiments in history.

The Wall Street Journal reported Feb. 15 that Qatar – a tiny nation on a peninsula between Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf – is building a massive plant to turn the country’s natural gas into diesel fuel.

The process Qatar plans to use is not new. It is the same process used by South Africa and World War II-era Germany to turn coal into diesel. During the Apartheid era, many oil-producing countries would not do business with South Africa, and it depended on gasified coal for much of its diesel fuel needs.

John Rich Jr., president of Pennsylvania company WMPI, recently described the process to Land Line: Carbon-based substances are passed through an entrained flow gasifier to produce a synthesis gas. That synthesis gas then goes through a second process that liquefies it. The final product is a highly refined diesel that will run in existing diesel engines.

While Rich’s company uses the process to create diesel from coal waste, the Qatar plant would use it to convert natural gas into a liquid diesel fuel. Like’s Rich’s facilities, the Qatar process – called gas-to-liquid, or GTL – will produce a diesel that is free of many of the pollutants normally found in diesel fuel.

The Qatar project has caught the attention of some of the world’s oil giants, including ChevronTexaco, Royal Dutch/Shell Group and Exxon Mobil. The Journal reported that Exxon Mobil expects to spend between $15 billion and $17 billion to build facilities in the industrial park where Qatar plans to liquefy natural gas. A large part of that – $7 billion – will go to a gas-to-liquid plant, which The Journal said was the largest single investment in the history of the company.

Qatar has 14 percent of the world’s natural gas reserves.