GTL plant not done yet; more tests on tap

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2005

The $86 million experimental Gas-to-Liquids Plant in Nikiski will fire up again later this year and conduct additional testing on aspects of the process, a BP official said Tuesday.

"We told employees we would restart operations in the early spring and conclude testing in the late summer or early fall of this year," said Daren Beaudo, director of public affairs.

The 12 full-time workers who operate the plant — seven from BP and five contractors — had been informed the plant would close and the company was looking to redeploy them, though no job losses were anticipated as a result of the plant closure.

BP spokesperson Dave MacDowell told the Peninsula Clarion in January the program had done what it was intended to do — prove that BP could manufacture gas-to-liquids products with its partner Davy Process Technologies.

MacDowell said then that it was unlikely BP would fund further operations. That has now changed.

The decision to restart the testing program demonstrated the flexible nature of the project, Beaudo said.

BP's testing program focused on proprietary technologies in the first two stages of a three-stage process that turned natural gas into liquid synthetic crude oil. The new technologies employed in the first two stages could lead to a less costly production process particularly applicable in stranded gas fields.

A smaller-than-standard-size reformer unit first converted natural gas to a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide called a "synthesis gas." That gas was sent to a converter that rearranged hydrocarbon molecules into long chains producing a kind of wax.

The wax then entered a standard hydrocracking unit where the long-chain molecules are broken, producing the synthetic crude that needs neither super-cooling nor pressure to remain a liquid. From that crude come clean diesel, jet fuel, lubricants, naphtha and olefins.

The BP plant produced about 8,000 barrels of syncrude over the 18-month testing period. That product was trucked to the nearby Tesoro plant, where it was blended with Tesoro's feedstock.

There is no market for the fuel-making process in Alaska, however, because construction and operation of pipelines delivering natural gas has been deemed economically more feasible.

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