Qatar Airways first to benefit from commercial introduction of synthetic GTL jet fuel at Doha
Qatar Airways A340 taking on GTL blended fuel at Doha prior to flight to London
Fri 11 Jan 2013 – A Qatar Airways Airbus A340-600 flight from Doha to London on Wednesday marked the introduction of commercial-scale synthetic blended jet fuel produced in Qatar. Supplies of the natural gas-to-liquid (GTL) jet fuel, which is blended 50/50 with conventional Jet-A1, are being produced by the Pearl GTL plant, a venture involving Qatar Petroleum and Shell. The GTL fuel will initially be restricted for use by Qatar Airways but it is likely to be supplied to other airlines serving Doha International Airport at some stage in the future. The Fischer-Tropsch Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (FT-SPK) blend was approved for commercial use in 2009 and there are expectations that up to one million tonnes of the fuel can be produced annually by Pearl GTL. GTL fuel does not provide reductions in lifecycle CO2 emissions but is cleaner burning with almost zero sulphur and lower particulate emissions compared with its petroleum-based equivalent.
“The production of GTL Jet Fuel is a great achievement for Pearl GTL and the State of Qatar,” said Dr Mohammed bin Saleh Al-Sada, the country’s Minister of Energy and Industry, and also head of Qatar Petroleum, at a ceremony to mark the inaugural flight. “GTL Jet Fuel will be supplied into the wider jet fuel pool at Doha, enabling the State of Qatar to enjoy the benefits of this product. It is indeed an historic moment for Qatar that the first aviation fuel to be approved globally in the last 20 years originates here.”
As well as diversifying the aviation fuel supply chain, the GTL fuel is attractive to airlines and airport authorities keen to improve air quality at busy airports by reducing local emissions of sulphur and particulates, says Qatar Airways. The higher energy density of the fuel compared to conventional kerosene also has the potential to reduce engine maintenance requirements and produce better fuel performance, claims the airline.
“Qatar Airways has long had the foresight to be a leader in the field of environmental stewardship in the aviation sector. This historic GTL-operated flight paves the way for Qatar Airways to contribute to environmental effectiveness when it comes to the day-to-day operations of our business,” said the airline’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker. “As the world talks and preaches environmentally-friendly skies, we at Qatar Airways are setting the bar high for others to follow. We are shifting the goalposts. We are setting an example by doing our part, by committing ourselves to be at the forefront of innovative research.”
The fuel from the Pearl GTL plant, which is located 80km north of Doha, is being marketed by Tasweeq for use solely within Qatar, and is also providing local aviation fuel supply and logistics support. “We look forward to expanding the scope of this GTL fuel to deliver Qatar’s energy for all airlines flying to Doha,” said Saad Al Kuwari, CEO of Tasweeq.
With its huge reserves of natural gas, Qatar is looking to exploit its position as the GTL capital of the world and Shell has sunk nearly $19 billion into the Pearl GTL project, its largest single global investment. Shell built the world’s first commercial-scale GTL plant in Bintulu, Malaysia, in 1993 but output of Pearl GTL products is expected to be 10 times greater.
Work on developing alternative jet fuel is taking place elsewhere in Qatar. A laboratory research team at Qatar University has produced biofuel from organisms in the country’s highly saline waters. The experiment was subsequentlyly scaled up to larger outdoor tanks and is currently being upgraded to 25,000 specially-designed research ponds. If successful, efforts will be further expanded to a pre-commercialisation pilot plant with a capacity of 1.5 million litres.
During the recent UNFCCC COP climate talks in Doha, ICAO Council President Roberto Kobeh González took the opportunity to visit the $12.5 million project, a collaboration with Qatar Airways and Qatar Science and Technology Park. “We really welcome this as an example of the varying biofuel solutions that can be applied in different areas around the globe,” he said. “The Qatar project is notable in that it is state-backed and employs resources natural to the surroundings. These do not depend on arable land vital to food consumption.”
Kobeh told COP delegates that alternative fuels were an essential part of the ICAO strategy as its member states looked to meet their responsibilities in realising a sustainable future for international civil aviation.
“Commercial flights on sustainable alternative fuels are now a reality,” he said. "Airlines are using drop-in biofuels that do not require changes to aircraft design or fuel delivery systems. Facilitating the availability of such fuels at competitive prices and in sufficient quantities for use in aviation is the next challenge.”