Royal Dutch Shell plc has found another niche for global natural gas, a first-of-its-kind base oil that is the main component of motor oils.
The patented PurePlus Technology, one development within Shell's gas-to-liquids (GTL) arm, is being used to create motor oils for U.S. customers through Pennzoil products, also owned by the company.
"This is an absolute step change in our industry," said Shell Lubricants Americas President Istvan Kapitany. "It is important to Shell that we continue to push the boundaries of science and innovation to provide our customers with improved transport options.”
Shell manufactures the base oil at Pearl GTL in Ras Laffan, Qatar, a partnership with Qatar Petroleum (see Daily GPI, March 25, 2011). Pearl is the largest GTL facility in the world. Shell also is constructing Prelude a floating GTL platform
The technology "is the result of 40 years of innovation, starting with the Shell GTL process that dates back to the 1970s," said Richard Dixon, who manages Shell North America motor oil technology. "We then took this technology and ultimately created Shell PurePlus base oil, which has been in large-scale commercial development since late 2011. To our knowledge, Shell is the only manufacturer to have produced base oils from natural gas on a commercial scale..."
The base oil is clear because it has fewer of the impurities found in crude oil, according to Shell, which has multiple patents on the manufacturing processes. Shell's lubricants division accounted for about one-quarter of company earnings in 2013. The United States in 2012 accounted for close to one-quarter of the entire global lubricants market.
If natural gas can be used to produce niche products like commercial motor oils, it points to potential gains for the United States, said a spokesman for America's Natural Gas Alliance. "Any product that uses natural gas, we feel, is a step in the right direction," said Dan Whitten. If U.S. gas could be used in the motor oil production process, "that would be something we would like to know more about."