First there was Oryx Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) in Qatar and now there is Pearl GTL, which is the largest single GTL plant in the world with a total capacity of 140,000 barrels per day (b/d) of GTL products and 120,000 b/d of natural gas liquids and condensate. The GTL industry has been slow to develop. Sasol has been producing diesel and other products from coal-to-liquids (CTL) for decades. Sasol’s technology is being used in the Oryx plant while Shell’s process is the basis for Pearl GTL. As Shell’s chief executive officer, Peter Voser, said on Nov. 22, “The inauguration of Pearl GTL represents a historic milestone for Shell and for our industry as a whole. It marks the culmination of five years of project delivery, and over 35 years of GTL technology development at Shell.” It would be nice to say the technology has taken off and the industry is expanding rapidly. But, that’s not the case. The oil and gas industry is waiting to see if GTL products really will command a premium in the marketplace and if these “cleaner” fuels will be accepted environmentally. That hasn’t happened so far. The enthusiasm for the technology remains strong, but the cost of these plants in terms of money and energy remain deterrents. Sasol, though, and Chevron are moving ahead with the next GTL project in Nigeria. The Escravos project is under construction and expected to begin production in 2013. Sasol is also pursuing GTL projects in Australia, Uzbekistan and Canada -- places where the markets can’t keep up with the oversupply of natural gas. And, Sasol is pushing CTL as a way to tap into huge coal reserves in an environmentally sound approach. The company is pursuing CTL projects in India and China. GTL was touted for use on the North Slope of Alaska as a way to keep the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System open for a longer period of time. Once deliveries drop below 200,000 b/d, the pipeline must be shut down. It made sense to produce liquids on the North Slope and ship those south with crude oil to extend the life of the producing fields. However, the state of Alaska came out against the proposal since it would lose about 45% of the energy content of the natural gas in the GTL process. The state would make more money shipping gas south rather than liquids. Of course, neither one has happened so far. Sasol has been trying to get a CTL project up and running in the U.S. but hasn’t been successful so far. One of the best suggestions was to use mounds of culm (waste from anthracite coal) dumped over large areas in Pennsylvania as the feedstock for a CTL facility. It would take a major eyesore and put it to good use. That hasn’t happened yet either. Two U.S. companies -- Rentech and Syntroleum -- promoted GTL projects in the U.S. for years. Wyoming wants to be able to monetize more of its coal reserves and has been studying CTL for the past few years. Rentech turned an old methanol plant in Commerce City, CO, into a CTL research facility in support of a project in Wyoming. As far as I know, nothing has come of that project. You would think there would be more enthusiasm for technology that turns dirty coal into clean diesel. That is especially true given that the U.S. has a 300- or 400-year supply of coal that a lot of people don’t want to burn in power plants. If the CTL and GTL producers can show consumers the benefits of these products, perhaps the time for this industry will approach more rapidly than it is now. After all, one of the byproducts of GTL facilities is water, which is major selling point in places like Qatar. Contact the author, Scott Weeden, at