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Demonstration plant for small-scale offshore GTL on site at Petrobras refinery; production targeted for September

A recently-arrived integrated 6 barrel per day (bbl/day) microchannel GTL (gas-to-liquids) demonstration plant, designed to test the feasibility of small-scale offshore GTL, will produce a raw FT (Fischer-Tropsch) liquid and wax which can be further processed to provide a range of products or integrated into a crude oil stream for conventional refining.

Small-scale GTL facilities based on the use of microchannel reactors and designed for use on offshore platforms have the potential to turn unwanted associated gas into an energy asset and halt wasteful flaring or expensive re-injection.

The skid-mounted plant was built as part of a joint demonstration and testing agreement (JDTA) between the microchannel reactor specialists Velocys, Inc., the US-based member of the UK-based Oxford Catalysts Group; offshore facility developers, MODEC; the global engineering firm Toyo Engineering; and Petrobras. (Earlier post.) The skid includes microchannel Fischer-Tropsch (FT) and steam methane reforming (SMR) reactors developed by Velocys, as well as all the auxiliary equipment required to convert methane to FT products.

The GTL process involves two operations: steam methane reforming (SMR), followed by Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis. In SMR the methane gas is mixed with steam and passed over a catalyst to produce a syngas consisting of hydrogen (H2) and carbon monoxide (CO). The reaction is highly endothermic, so requires the input of heat. This can be generated by the combustion of the excess H2. In microchannel SMR reactors the heat-generating combustion and steam methane reforming processes take place in adjacent channels. The high heat transfer properties of the microchannels make the process very efficient.

These same heat transfer properties offer different advantages for the highly exothermic FT reaction. Microchannel FT reactors consist of reactor blocks containing thousands of thin process channels filled with FT catalyst, which are interleaved with water-filled coolant channels. As a result they are able to dissipate the heat produced by the FT reaction much more quickly than conventional systems, so more active FT catalysts can be used.

Microchannel reactors are compact reactors that have channels with diameters in the millimeter range. The small diameter channels dissipate heat more quickly than conventional reactors with larger channel diameters in the 2.5 – 10 cm (1 – 4 inch) range so more active catalysts can be used. Mass and heat transfer limitations reduce the efficiency of the large conventional high pressure reactors used for hydroprocessing. The use of microchannel processing will make it possible to greatly intensify chemical reactions to enable them to occur at rates 10 to 1000 times faster than in conventional systems.

The Oxford Catalysts Group has developed microchannel Fischer-Tropsch (FT) and steam methane reforming (SMR) reactors.

Although the Oxford Catalysts Group’s FT microchannel reactors already have been proven in biomass to liquids (BTL) trials taking place at the biomass gasification facility in Güssing, Austria, the trial in Brazil will provide the first proving ground for the SMR reactor. It also represents the first time FT and SMR microchannel reactors have been combined on a single skid. This technology advance demonstrates the potential for the use of small scale microchannel GTL plants to handle and profit from small volumes of gas which would otherwise be flared.

—Andrew Holwell, Business Development Manager at Oxford Catalysts

Following re-assembly, pre-commissioning and commissioning at the Fortaleza site, the demonstration plant is scheduled to start up in September, subject to the availability of the required utilities from Petrobras. It then will operate for approximately nine months.

Offshore GTL. According the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Initiative (GGFR), a World Bank-led public-private partnership launched in 2002, more than 134 billion cubic meters (bcm; or 4.7 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas are being flared and perhaps the same amount is vented annually. This is equivalent to 25% of the United States’ gas consumption, 30% of the European Union’s gas consumption, and more than the combined gas consumption of Central and South America.

A newly released GE study on the topic also estimates that 5% of the world’s natural gas production is wasted by burning or “flaring” unused gas each year, despite some progress on the flaring issue. (Earlier post.)

Offshore GTL facilities offer the potential to make use of this abundant potential energy source. The combination of small size, and high heat and mass transfer properties leading to high production efficiency make microchannel reactors ideal for use in offshore GTL.

Offshore GTL is an optimal approach for handling associated gas because the resulting product is a synthetic crude which can be combined with the petroleum crude so that it transported along with the oil to shore via existing tankers, eliminating the need for a separate logistics system to transport the gas to market.


Alex Kovnat

If the buildup of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is so serious a matter as to justify the ever-intensifying campaign of regulatory aggression against the auto industry, then it is also a serious enough matter to STOP THE WASTEFUL FLARING OF NATURAL GAS.

It is shocking that we are told to accept ever more expensive technology, and possible compromises with the room and performance we are accustomed to from our cars, while trillions of cubic feet of natural gas are wastefully burned in the atmosphere every year. So even if the GTL process mentioned above doesn't turn a profit, it may well have socially redeeming value just from the standpoint of eliminating gas-flaring.


It may be the right thing to do, but by now you should face the reality that people are profit motivated and that finding a way for them to turn a profit from this waste will prove the quicker solution to this huge waste. And I should think, that adding even a small percentage of this fuel to the world's energy mix should help the supply side of the equation.

William Thomas

And there are other companies promoting the same system...but so far, their production and stock value is nil. Yes profit today is king, so few are motivated by virtuous things. But, this small-scale system could be profitable IF IT WAS PART OF "CAP AND TRADE" exchanges, which normally I'd say do less for the environment than a straightforward GAS AND ENERGY TAX (with taxpayer rebate of course for basic needs.


If you want to motivate people to use less, then a tax might work, but I think it should be a carbon tax, not a direct gas tax. Then both the electric utilities and the consumers would be profit motivated to both find higher efficiency and alternate fuels. I am not a fan of cap and trade because it seems to award those with existing inefficient coal and oil power plants to continue to use them. A carbon tax would do more to move the coal plant power pricing in line with its impact which is supposed to lead to their moving to alternate energy choices without deciding which choices are right.

Johnny B Good

There are also over 3,000 active landfills in the U.S. many of which are flaring their methane or have inefficient methane collection systems. This gas has its host of issues and does require pretreatment however it is still wasted energy that can be converted to oil feed stock at a local (distributive power generation) level.

There are also over 60,000 dairy farms of various sizes that could benefit from this technology if the components were skid mounted, modular and scalable. This methane is much cleaner and requires less pretreatment. There is your market now let’s get to work.

I have 5 rather large potential clients that could use this technology now. This could make us rich and help us move up into higher tax brackets.


Whoever is polluting such pay 100% of the consequences.

If that principle is applied, flaring would be reduced quickly enough.


One of the examples of corporate conduct was the BP Texas City, Texas oil refinery. It was build in the 1930s and when BP bought Amocco they bought the refinery and its liabilities with the purchase.

BP was told by safety experts that they needed to spend $150,000 to replace antiquated blow off stacks with flares. The main office at BP wanted to save money and several people died and many were injured in the fire and explosion caused by the old out dated blow off stacks.

We used to have a government that was concerned about worker safety and TOLD the companies what must be done or they would be fined and if they continued violating they would be shut down. Ever since Reagan, the government has been a big business lap dog and we have all seen the damage done.

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