BPs GTL plant in Nikiski is on target for April start

Posted: Sunday, March 03, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A pilot plant in Nikiski for testing BPs technology to convert natural gas to liquid fuels is on track to start by April, a project manager said.

The $86 million plant will be used to test new technology BP has developed, including a compact reformer that's about a fortieth the size of a conventional unit. About $40 million of the total was spent in Alaska.

Testing at Nikiski could go on as long as five years, according to Steve Fortune, the project's engineering manager.

GTL engineering manager Steve Fortune said the technology designed around the unit is more efficient and more environmentally sound.

About 100 to 120 workers are on site, Fortune said.

Plans call for eventually using a solid oxide fuel cell unit that will convert low-pressure natural gas directly into electricity through a chemical reaction similar to what is used in a battery.

The fuel cell will produce direct current electricity and convert it to alternating current, the kind of electricity commonly found in household power outlets.

The plant is designed so BP can plug in new designs in various stages of the process to test what its labs produce.

''We have a site devoted to research. Thats a very powerful thing to have,'' he said. ''If we can prove the technology at this scale, we can go up to 100-300 times the scale.''

With that, BP could build a plant on the North Slope that would produce 30,000 barrels daily -- a hundred times what the Nikiski facility will turn out, he said. Additional ''trains'' could mean even higher production from a single facility but little additional cost savings, Fortune said.

The liquid that's produced by a GTL plant is low in sulfur and other pollutants, and is expected to command a premium in the market.

Fortune said BP already has done quite a bit of the design work for a commercial-scale plant.

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