GTL oils could help to improve petrol and engine lubricants

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Shell is manufacturing new gas-to-liquid (GTL) oils at its Qatar GTL plant that could be used to improve petrol and engine lubricants. 

The GTL plant turns clean natural gas (methane) into five useful oil products through complex chemical transformation processes.

Methane is converted into these useful liquid products over three stages. First, the methane is reacted with oxygen to create a synthesis gas in reactors operating at up to 1,300ºC. The synthesis gas is then converted into liquid waxy hydrocarbons through the Fischer-Tropsch process.

Finally, the liquid waxy hydrocarbons are ‘cracked’, or broken down, into the five useful products using specially developed technology involving novel cobalt catalysts.

Gas oil is one of those useful GTL products being used to make a new cleaner car fuel. Colin Abraham, Shell’s vice-president for lubricants and commercial fuels marketing, said there are four main benefits to the new GTL fuel: reduced emissions; reduced noise emissions; ease of integration into existing fuel systems; and lack of investment needed into new infrastructures.

Abraham said Shell would not be introducing the fuel to petrol stations. ‘We will target airports and customers who have the ability to store the fuel themselves,’ he said. ‘The plan is not to make GTL fuel available widely across the network as this would put a strain on infrastructure.’

Base oil, another useful product of GTL, is being used to improve Shell’s existing premium engine lubricants to make engines more efficient by reducing friction.

Selda Gunsel, Shell’s vice-president for global commercial technology, said: ‘We plan to use our GTL base oils in developing high-performance engine oils that help conserve energy, improve engine durability and help reduce emissions.’

Recent tests of the GTL engine oils on a fleet of Volvo trucks saw a three per cent fuel economy benefit over conventional oils.

Shell is currently developing one of the world’s largest GTL fields through its $20bn (£13bn) Pearl project 60km off the Qatari coast in the Arabian Gulf.

The facility is expected to produce 40,000 barrels of GTL products per day and a further 120,000 barrels of upstream natural gas.