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Qatar Jets to Fly on Natural Gas

Qatar Airways’ new Doha International Airport, scheduled to open in 2013, will pump airline fuel made from natural gas from Royal Dutch Shell’s gas-to-liquids plant, New York Times reports.

The plant (pictured), called Pearl, jointly developed by Qatar Petroleum and Shell, produces up to 140,000 barrels a day of gas-to-liquid products, including gasoil, naphtha, kerosene, normal-paraffin and oils for advanced lubricants, according to Shell. It also produces 120,000 barrels a day of natural gas liquids (liquefied petroleum gas and condensate) and ethane.

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker told the Times that natural gas fuel is better for the environment than jet fuel made from petroleum. It has no sulfur, which means it does not produce sulfur dioxide, a more harmful GHG than Co2 when emitted at low altitudes. (The Times notes, however, that at higher altitudes, sulfur dioxide reflects sunlight back into space and — in theory — combats global warming.)

Also, natural gas has more energy per pound than petroleum jet fuel. This means planes require fewer pounds of fuel to fly greater distances, with greater fuel economy.

The $19 billion Pearl project is located in Ras Laffan Industrial City, 80 km north of Doha, and according to Shell, is the largest gas-to-liquids plant in the world and the largest energy project in Qatar. The plant will process about 3 billion barrels-of-oil-equivalent over its lifetime, Shell says.

The facility includes systems to capture energy given off during the processes, converting it to steam that drives the plant’s compressors and generates electricity. A water recycling plant — which Shell calls the largest of its kind — treats water for re-use in steam production and cooling. Some of the water is also used for shrubs and trees at the plant. The facility can process 45,000 cubic meters of water per day, without discharging any liquids, according to Shell.

Shell says it built the world’s first commercial gas-to-liquids plant in Bintulu, Malaysia in 1993. To date, the company has 3,500 patents along the natural gas-to-liquids process.

Natural gas will have the fastest growth rate among the fossil fuels to 2035, increasing 1.6 percent per year, from 111 trillion cubic feet in 2008 to 169 trillion cubic feet in 2035, according to the Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook 2011.

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