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The Pearl Gas to Liquids (GTL), a joint venture of Shell and Qatar Petroleum, is the world’s largest GTL plant and one of the world’s largest, most complex and challenging energy projects ever commissioned. From the origins of Shell GTL technology nearly 40 years ago, to its first commercial debut in Shell’s Bintulu GTL plant in Malaysia in the early 1990s, to the creation of the world’s GTL capital in Qatar today – the delivery of GTL on such a vast scale as Pearl GTL has brought together almost every aspect of Shell’s technical and project management capabilities.
Pearl GTL is a fully integrated upstream-downstream development capturing in one project the full gas value chain from offshore development through onshore gas processing, the conversion of gas to hydrocarbon liquids, and the refining to finished products. Up to 1.6 billion cubic feet per day of wellhead gas from 22 offshore wells is converted to gas-to-liquids using Shell’s proprietary Shell Middle Distillate Synthesis (SMDS) process, built on 3,500 patents. From this, a range of high-performing GTL products is created, from gasoil, kerosene and base oil to naphtha and normal paraffins for the petrochemicals industry.
GTL products represent a pioneering innovation to increase the supply of highly-demanded liquid hydrocarbons. Pearl GTL products are virtually sulphur free and have practically no contaminants such as heavy metals or aromatics. Their paraffinic chemical nature ensures that they are highly biodegradable and almost odourless. When GTL Gasoil is used in automotive applications such as buses it can help improve local air quality, such as soot (particulates) emissions, when compared to the use of conventional diesel fuel.
The Pearl GTL plant has 24 reactors, weighing 1,200 tonnes a piece. They each contain 29,000 tubes full of Shell’s cobalt synthesis catalyst, which speeds up the chemical reaction. If placed end to end, the tubes would stretch from Doha to Tokyo, while the combined surface area of the catalyst is almost 18 times the size of Qatar. The catalyst comes in the form of pellets that are as small as grains of rice. The vast surface area is due to the catalyst’s many nano-sized inner channels, which make it highly porous so that huge volumes of gas can be exposed to the catalysts’ chemically treated surface, accelerating the speed of reaction.
The technical innovation deployed in Pearl GTL included new engineering design developments across all engineering disciplines, offshore as well as onshore, as well as in procurement, contracting, logistics, construction, contractor interface management, safety management, manpower resourcing, other key aspects of the project implementation. Examples of innovation include: the application of 2nd generation Fischer Tropsch synthesis catalyst with conditions adopted to fully benefit from its production capacity potential; integrated water management scheme for re-use of treated process water as boiler feed water and cooling water make-up, eliminating the intake of fresh water; advanced construction management practices overseeing a workforce of 52,000 at peak; logistics modelling to manage two million tons of freight resulting in no accidents; and the largest process automation system ever built in the energy industry.
Construction of Pearl GTL was completed on schedule with the complex starting up end of Q1 2011. Full ramp-up was achieved towards the end of 2012. Despite massive number of workers involved and the complexity of Pearl GTL’s construction, a strong safety culture helped Qatar and Shell break industry records. In 2010, the project achieved 77 million hours worked without a single lost time injury (LTI) and an overall LTI frequency of 0.04 LTI/million man-hours corresponding to about 1/10th of the industry average.
Pearl GTL’s record breaking safety performance has been recognised both in Qatar and the region. In May 2011, the project was given the Gold Award at the inaugural Qatar Oil and Gas Industry Safety Awards event. In October 2012, the project won the ADIPEC Regional Award for best HSE in projects. Pearl GTL also set new standards with the creation of Pearl Village, a radically superior approach to contractor accommodation emphasizing worker welfare and specialized training to help drive safety, productivity and quality.
GTL technology provides an alternative route for natural gas monetisation, offering full upside to higher oil prices. Over the lifetime of the project, Pearl GTL will process about 3 billion barrels of oil equivalent of gas.
For Shell’s major resource holder customer, the State of Qatar, Pearl GTL has allowed for gas diversification while opening up new markets and opportunities – it’s transforming decades’ worth of gas reserves into economic progress, built on Shell’s pioneering innovations.
Pearl GTL is truly a ground-breaking project leveraging one of Shell’s key strengths - bringing innovative solutions to the energy challenge.