"Every day natural gas flares blaze across swaths of Africa, Russia, Asia and the Middle East, burning off 10 billion cubic feet of energy--the equivalent of 1.7 million barrels of oil. There's more gas where that came from. Reserves of "stranded" natural gas--the stuff that's abandoned because there's no economical way to transport it--come to maybe 2,500 trillion cubic feet. If captured and converted, the gas would make (after conversion losses) 250 billion barrels of synthetics, from clean-burning diesel to jet fuel. That's like finding another Saudi Arabia."
"My kingdom for a synfuels catalyst! For a century the world has been looking for economical ways to convert undesirable fossils like coal and methane into desirable ones like diesel. Success may finally be at hand.
One aspirant to this royal achievement is a tiny R&D company in Tulsa, Oklahoma called Syntroleum Corp. In 20 years of struggling Syntroleum hasn't made a dime (last year it lost $34.6 million on revenues of $19.2 million). But it says it has refined a gas-to-liquids process to the point that it's now cheap and safe. "Every technology has its day," says company founder Kenneth Agee. "But there was no reason for GTL until now."
That's not quite true. During World War II Germany had a desperate need to convert coal into motor fuels and used the very chemical process at the heart of the Syntroleum technology. And in the late 1970s there was a U.S. government-funded effort to make synfuels, an effort that receded when oil prices declined.(ed: the technology was used successfully in South Africa as well) Now, with oil approaching $40 a barrel once again, synfuels may have their day.
Absent a cost-effective way to turn natural gas into oil, the gas itself has to be transported, and that can be very hard to do. Without a gas pipeline at hand, the gas must be turned into a liquid for shipping. A stampede is on to build a global liquefied natural gas network, with 45 proposed receiving terminals in North America, from Fall River, Massachusetts to Baja California. But LNG gets complicated. Gas gets piped to mammoth plants in places like Qatar and superchilled down to a liquid state. From there it's shipped in special cryogenic tankers to fuel-strained Japan or the U.S., where it goes through a regasification terminal. By comparison, GTL, if it could be made to work, would be easy.
One way to turn methane (natural gas' main ingredient) into liquid fuel is to blend it with pure oxygen under heat and pressure to produce synthesis gas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. With help from a catalyst, the synthesis gas is transformed into waxy hydrocarbons, which in turn can be cracked into smaller, diesel-like fuel molecules. This can all take place out in the gas field, after which transportation is a snap. Unlike diesel derived from crude oil, the synthetic version doesn't require you to replace or upgrade an engine and doesn't emit any sulfur, metals or many particulates when burned. Even the California Energy Commission loves it. Last May it released a report calling synthetic diesel the most effective alternative fuel, above biodiesel and all fuel cells."...more at that article link
FAQs on real world economies of this GTL tech using California's imports, air pollution stats, and the Alsakan Oil fields as an example
Syntroleum's process and links to PDFs, one is to their synthetic diesel product
(January 15, 2005)