EIA Pessimistic on GTL Plants

Small plants maximizing wax output could be built


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The U.S. Energy Information Administration said poor economics will prevent the construction of any large-scale gas-to-liquids (GTL) plants in the U.S. through 2040, although small ones might be built.

Two large-scale GTL plants are operating in Malaysia, two in Qatar and one in South Africa. A large plant is proposed for Lake Charles, Louisiana, and small ones are planned for Karns City, Pennsylvania, and Ashtabula, Ohio. Last December, Shell cancelled plans to build a large-scale facility in Louisiana.

The Fischer-Tropsch synthesis process is commonly used to convert methane to waxes and liquid fuels, but uses high pressures and temperatures that require an expensive reaction vessel. An alternative technology uses a “micro-channel” reactor and proprietary catalysts that produce liquids on much smaller scales.

EIA said U.S. imports of waxes have grown steadily over the last decade for the manufacture of candles, paints and coatings, resins, plastic, synthetic rubber, tires, and other products. It said most GTL developers are trying to configure their plants to maximize the output of waxes and lubricating products.

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