Shell Group has put Bintulu at the forefront of gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology with over US$150 million (US$1=RM3.46) investment in two GTL research and development (R&D) demonstration projects.

The projects, sited in Shell MDS (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd in Bintulu, are used to prove a new technology at commercial scale.

Shell Malaysia Gas & Power’s vice president, Dick Benschop, said the projects, which were 99 percent completed and would be operational by year-end, would further develop Shell MDS as a R&D centre for GTL technology for the group and strengthen its leadership in GTL.

“Bintulu has always been a pioneer in GTL technology and operations ever since Shell designed and developed the world’s first commercial GTL plant in Bintulu in 1993,” he said at the launch of the projects last Friday.

Benschop said the investment also showed Shell’s commitment to the country.

“Shell has been in Malaysia for about 117 years. Malaysia is an important country for Shell which is also a big and important foreign investor which contributes to the country’s economy,” he said.

The two projects are: enhanced Shell gasification process (SGP) for GTL that could further increase the efficiency of the process through optimised energy integration and the heavy paraffin synthesis (HPS) project, a pilot-scale facility to further enhance the performance of Shell’s proprietary GTL catalyst.

The enhanced SGP for GTL is a technology for the improvement of syngas manufacturing. Integrated with the other elements of Shell’s technology, it could enable GTL project value improvements and help achieve lower carbon dioxide production during the GTL conversion.

The HPS facility could demonstrate further improved HPS catalysts and operating procedures.

Shell MDS has the capacity to convert approximately three million cubic metres of natural gas into some 14,700 barrels per day of cleaner GTL products.

It produces a wide range of high quality waxes, specialty chemicals and transport fuels, which are marketed to over 40 countries in Asia, Europe, US, Africa and Australia. GTL products are virtually free from sulphur and aromatics and highly biodegradable.

Besides Shell, South Africa’s Sasol also has GTL technology.

Gasification/synthesis technology development manager of its technology arm, Shell Global Solutions International, H.P. Calis, said the new projects showed the group’s commitment to further develop its leading position in GTL technology, which would be used to further enhance the production in Bintulu as well as the new GTL plant being built in Qatar.

The Qatar plant is 10 times the size of Bintulu’s.

“It is an effort to continuously improve on the GTL technology.

“They are also examples, more broadly, of Shell’s commitment to investing in technology. This is evidenced by our total annual R&D expenditure of around US$1.2 billion last year, by far the highest among the oil and gas majors,” he said.

Shell, he said, also has technology of coal-to-liquid, biomass-to-liquid and anything-to-liquid technology.

Benchop said Shell was already doing feasibility study on coal-to-liquid in China, where there was ample coal resources.

However, Calis said, coal was a much more complex feedstock compared to gas.