What is gas-to-liquids?

Shell’s gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology converts natural gas – the cleanest-burning fossil fuel – into high-quality liquid products that would otherwise be made from crude oil. These products include transport fuels, motor oils and the ingredients for everyday necessities like plastics, detergents and cosmetics.

GTL products are colourless and odourless. They contain almost none of the impurities – sulphur, aromatics and nitrogen – that are found in crude oil. 

GTL production can help countries with natural gas resources grow their economies as new gas supplies come on-stream to satisfy growing global demand for liquid products.

Employees at the Pearl GTL plant

World’s first and biggest GTL plants

Shell began developing GTL technology in the 1970s. We opened the world’s first commercial GTL plant, Shell MDS, in Bintulu, Malaysia in 1993 and the world’s largest GTL plant, Pearl GTL, in Qatar in 2011.

Our Bintulu plant in Malaysia celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2018, highlighting the potential longevity of such an investment. Out of its 435 staff, 89% are from the local Sarawak region and 98% are Malaysian. 

At the heart of our GTL plants is our proprietary Shell GTL technology. We have invested more than $1 billion and filed over 3,500 patents in developing the gas-to-liquids process.

We continuously improve our GTL technology by enhancing our designs, refining our processes and adding new GTL products. Responding to demand for smaller GTL facilities, we have developed a concept that allows considerable flexibility in production capacity. In 2014, we signed an agreement to conduct a feasibility study for a GTL plant in Mozambique.

How the GTL production process works

The GTL process consists of three stages: 

In the first stage synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, is manufactured from natural gas by partial oxidation. Impurities are removed from the syngas. 

A second stage converts the synthesis gas into liquid hydrocarbons using a catalyst. In this stage, a liquid is formed which looks and feels like wax at room temperature. 

The final stage is cracking and isomerisation, which “tailors” the molecule chains into products with desired properties. This yields high-quality liquids such as diesel, kerosene and lubricant oil.

Catalysts speed up chemical reactions

Advanced cobalt-based synthesis catalysts developed by Shell Catalysts & Technologies are crucial for efficient, large-scale conversion of natural gas to liquid fuels and other products. Each catalyst is as small as a grain of rice, and just 150 grams of them have the surface area of a football field.

Huge volumes of gas are exposed to the catalysts’ chemically treated surface, which maximises the rate of chemical GTL-reactions. The vast surface area is the result of the catalysts' many nano-sized inner channels, which make them highly porous.

Every few years, the cobalt inside used catalysts is reclaimed to make new ones.

GTL products

GTL Fuels

Person refuelling car with GTL fuel

GTL Fuels

Shell GTL Fuel is an alternative fuel for use in diesel engines, which can lower local emissions (e.g. particulate matter, NOx, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide). 

It can be used in existing heavy-duty diesel vehicles without modifications, allowing for easy switchover from diesel fuel with no infrastructure investment required.[1] Shell GTL Fuel is already in daily use with commercial fleets in Germany and the Netherlands.

Shell GTL Fuel has broadly similar physical characteristics to crude diesel derived from crude oil, but it has a much higher cetane number, a higher mass calorific value, lower levels of sulphur and aromatics, and a lower density.

[1] Based on Shell’s operability studies conducted to date

Find out more about Shell GTL fuel

GTL Kerosene

World's first commercial passenger flight powered by GTL Kerosene

GTL Kerosene

GTL Kerosene is a synthetic product made from natural gas rather than crude oil, which can be used in aviation and other applications. GTL Jet Fuel is a blend of GTL Kerosene and conventional crude oil-derived standard jet fuel. It is approved for most aviation use at concentrations up to 50% blended with conventional oil-based kerosene (standard Jet A1). 

Compared with conventional oil-based kerosene, GTL Kerosene produces virtually zero sulphur dioxide emissions and lower particulate emissions. This means that once blended with conventional jet fuel to create GTL Jet Fuel, it can be attractive to airlines and airport authorities keen to improve local air quality at busy airports by reducing local emissions.

In addition Shell GTL Kerosene has excellent combustion properties with low emissions, making it suitable as lamp oil and fuel for use in greenhouses due to its high smoke point. It can also be used as a feedstock in manufacturing the raw ingredients for detergents, and it makes a good solvent for metal cleaning and dry cleaning.

GTL Paraffin

Fabric detergent pouring from bottle

GTL Normal Paraffin

GTL Normal Paraffin is an alternative feedstock for detergent production replacing normal paraffins from oil-based kerosene. Also known as light detergent feedstock (LDF) and heavy detergent feedstock (HDF), these products are used in making washing up liquids and PVC plasticisers.

GTL Drilling Base Fluids

Drilling rig at Pinedale Anticline Project Area (PAPA), Wyoming, USA

GTL Drilling Base Fluids

Shell GTL Drilling Base Fluids under the brand Shell GTL Saraline and Shell GTL Sarapar are made of a synthetic drilling base fluid with a low viscosity, a high flash point, high biodegradability and low toxicity. They are technically proven, and are widely used in drilling operations by major exploration and production operators worldwide.

Shell GTL Saraline 185V, is a multi-application synthetic base fluid for well drilling, is at the forefront in meeting drilling demands and challenges in the most environmentally-friendly and safe way. It has a low viscosity, a low pour point and relatively high flash point, for excellent drilling performance in a wide range of well conditions. Shell GTL Sarapar 147, the premium GTL synthetic paraffin, is suitable for high temperature and high-pressure wells.

Read more about GTL Drilling Base Fluids

GTL Fluids and Solvents

GTL Fluids and Solvents

Shell GTL Fluids and Solvents are next-generation, high-purity paraffinic fluids. Their unique synthetic composition, combined with low aromatics content, makes them suitable for use in a wide range of solvents applications including heating and lighter fluids, polishes, cleaners, crop protection products, paints and coatings, inks and cosmetics.

Read more on our solvents website

GTL Base Oils

Shell Helix Ultra lubricant being poured into car engine

GTL Base Oils

GTL Base Oils represent an entirely new way of producing synthetic base oils – the main component of lubricants – from natural gas. We market our gas-to-liquid process in the lubricants industry as Shell PurePlus Technology. It converts natural gas into crystal-clear base oils with virtually none of the impurities found in crude oil. 

Watch the video on YouTube "Shell makes motor oil from natural gas"

Shell PurePlus Technology yields premium synthetic motor oils which can actively help to keep engines clean while reducing fuel consumption [1] and wear [2]. Staying ahead of industry demands, Shell PurePlus Technology is a key performance factor in our premium Shell Helix Ultra motor oil, available in more than 100 countries around the world, and in our Pennzoil Platinum range in North America.

Read more about Shell Helix Ultra with PurePlus Technology

[1] Based on the M111 FE test compared with the industry reference oil

[2] Compared with API SN and based on sequence IVA and sequence VIII engine tests

GTL Process Oils

GTL liquid products in glass jars

GTL Process Oils

GTL Process Oils made with natural gas have opened exciting new opportunities for the next generation of specialist process oils used in a wide variety of chemical and technical industries either as raw material component or as an aid to processing.

Our products based on GTL technology include Shell Risella X and Shell Ondina X, which are high-quality technical and medical white oils offering extra purity and excellent performance in selected applications.

GTL Process Oils have a water-white colour and offer a uniform chemical structure, a high flash point and low volatility, and an outstanding light and thermal stability. They contain virtually no sulphur, nitrogen or aromatics.

Read more about Shell process oils

GTL Naphtha

GTL Naphtha

GTL Naphtha is an alternative high-quality feedstock for chemical manufacturing that makes the building blocks for plastics. It offers superior yields of ethylene and propylene over conventional naphtha.

As a synthetic product, GTL Naphtha has a consistent quality and contains no sulphur and heavy metals, which makes it cleaner. It is also more paraffinic than light high paraffinic naphtha while giving better lower olefins yields. 

GTL waxes

Candles made of wax

GTL Waxes

GTL Waxes are found in our speciality Shell GTL Sarawax range, suitable for applications ranging from hot melt adhesives, PVC lubricants, printing inks, rubber and tyres to candles, personal care and packaging material. GTL waxes comply with the United States Food and Drugs Administration regulations for indirect food contact applications.

Shell GTL Waxes are odourless and have an opaque white appearance and produce colour brilliance with minimum colouring agents. They also have high purity and consistent properties which make them ideal for automated and precision industrial applications. Sharp melting and cooling and low viscosity improve application speed.

Read more about GTL Waxes

GTL Phase Change Material

GTL Phase Change Material

Shell GTL Phase Change Material (PCM) under the brand name Shell GTL Saraphaez is a specialty wax which absorbs or releases its relatively large latent heat when it changes phase (between solid and liquid).

In building materials, it helps to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature and minimises use of active air-conditioning/heating by the release and absorption of latent heat. Other applications include clothing fabric, batteries, industrial and consumer heat storing and insulation.

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Liquefied natural gas (LNG)

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LNG for transport

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Shell MDS

Shell Malaysia is home to the world’s first commercial gas-to-liquid plants, Shell MDS, producing high-quality finished products including GTL waxes, drilling fluids, chemicals and fuels.