With an overabundance of domestic natural gas and only imported oil, the small peninsular nation of Qatar in the Persian Gulf has been trying to find a way to use its energy resources effectively. So at the end of 2013, the national airline, Qatar Airways, will run its fleet on a jet fuel produced entirely from natural gas, as opposed to using crude oil as its feedstock.
They have been constructing a new airport slated to open at the end of 2013 that has a swimming pool, squash courts and other luxurious five star amenities. It will also be extraordinary from an energy perspective, with the ability to pump jet fuel derived from domestically produced natural gas into planes.
The gas-to-liquids plant in Qatar is called Pearl GTL and was built by Royal Dutch/Shell. Pearl GTL is the largest plant in the world to turn natural gas into liquid fuel and has been doing so since 2011.
In the U.S., where we also have an abundance of domestic natural gas available, there are similar efforts in development. The Oxford Catalysts Group is planning a series of smaller, gas-to-liquid factories that they hope will produce diesel, gasoline and jet fuels from natural gas.
According to Andrew Herndon and Brian Swint of Bloomberg News, “Their goal is to make motor fuels more cheaply and easily than oil-based products produced at giant refineries, and all within two years.” Whether that ambitious goal is achieved remains to be seen.
Jet fuel from natural gas has slightly more energy per pound than fuel made from gasoline, resulting in slightly higher fuel economy overall. And, the natural gas jet fuel does not emit sulphur dioxide, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide when emitted at lower altitudes.
Qatar Airways has four aircraft with Rolls-Royce engines and 110 with General Electric engines. They have received approval from Rolls-Royce to use the natural gas jet fuel in the existing engines and are awaiting formal approval from G.E., although they have already internally approved its use in the G.E. engines.
In the U.S., government vehicles like garbage trucks and buses have been switching over to both compressed and liquified natural gas. They see that the low price of natural gas, its abundance domestically in the U.S. and its lower overall emissions are all great reasons to make the switch from regular gasoline.
At Sustainable America, we believe that switching to natural gas is one of the critical steps America can take to move away from imported oil and towards more sustainable domestic fuels with lower emissions.