Velocys’ pilot plant should generate five to 10 barrels of synthetic crude. It will employ a modular design, ganging together thousands of microchannels in reactor cubes that are roughly two feet per side. The catalysts are designed by Velocys’s parent company, UK-based Oxford Catalysts. The pilot plant will be built in Japan by Velocys partners Kobe Steel and Tokyo-based offshore equipment builder Modec, and delivered to Petrobras next year for testing.
Compact GTL is taking a similarly modular approach, with reactor cubes containing larger channels–about five to 10 millimeters across–that it thinks will translate into easier manufacturing and higher reliability. “We’ve been conservative in our degree of process intensification,” says Iain Baxter, Compact GTL’s general manager. “The oil industry isn’t one to mess with when it comes to reliability and operability.”
They also have a big jump on Velocys. Petrobras paid $45 million for Compact GTL’s 20-barrel-per-day pilot plant, which is expected to operate at an onshore Petrobras site in Brazil by August. And Petrobras is already financing the engineering of a 2,000-barrel-per-day Compact GTL plant for inclusion on a planned FPSO vessel, the Guanambi 1.
Montgomery says Petrobras is exploring other options for the associated gas of the Tupi field, including running a 300-kilometer pipeline out to the field, building FPSOs that can liquefy gas, and reinjecting the natural gas into the oil reservoirs.
The oil at Tupi sits under two kilometers of water and another five kilometers of rock and salt, making it difficult to get an accurate picture of the reservoirs. So instead of test-drilling wells for one to three months, Petrobras plans to build a fleet of FPSOs that can operate test wells for six to 18 months–long enough to generate a lot of gas but not long enough to justify building a pipeline or drilling costly reinjection wells.
Modular GTL plants, says Baxter, could be key to keeping oilfield development plans on schedule. “GTL, amongst the other alternatives, arguably offers the simplest gas solution for extended well test vessels.”
Once launched, both Compact GTL and Velocys bet that modular GTL plants will find plenty of opportunities both offshore and on land. Baxter says that is the message they see in the fact that Velocys’s partners, Modec and Kobe Steel, are spending their own money to build a pilot reactor for Petrobras: “It sends a signal that this is going to be a big market space and there is real aggressive competition for it. Other people are putting serious risk money on the table to try to get into this.”