Royal Dutch Shell plc and Qatar Petroleum provided a natural gas-based jet fuel to Qatar Airways earlier this month for the first commercial flight from Qatar’s Doha International to London Heathrow.

A Qatar Airways Airbus A340-600 plane (Flight QR001) flew outbound from Doha International using the gas-to-liquids (GTL) jet fuel, a blend with GTL kerosene and conventional oil-derived jet fuel at the Pearl GTL facility in Qatar. Pearl is a partnership between Qatar Petroleum and Shell, which operates the project.

The GTL kerosene may comprise up to half of a fuel blend to power a commercial airliner, Shell said. The first production cargo of GTL jet fuel was used in mid-December in an inaugural flight. The jet fuel blend meets global standards, but today it is used only in Qatar.

“The production of GTL jet fuel is a great achievement for Pearl GTL and the state of Qatar,” said Qatar Petroleum Chairman Mohammed bin Saleh Al Sada. “GTL jet fuel will be supplied into the wider jet fuel pool at Doha International Airport, enabling the state of Qatar to enjoy the benefits of this product…It is indeed a historic moment for Qatar that the first aviation fuel to be approved globally in the last 20 years originates in Qatar.” The country is “well positioned” to meet GTL demand.

Pearl, which cost close to $18 billion to build, today is the largest GTL plant in the world; it currently produces 120,000 bbl/d (see NGI, March 28, 2011).

Qatar Airways CEO Akhbar Al Baker said the airline is attempting to lead the industry into cleaner fuels.

“As the world talks and preaches environmentally friendly skies, we at Qatar Airways are setting the bar high for others to follow,” Al Baker said. “We are shifting the goalposts. We are setting an example by doing our part, by committing ourselves to be at the forefront of innovative research.”

Pearl is Shell’s single largest asset. Shell also has been exploring the possibility of building a GTL plant on the U.S. Gulf Coast; it also has in development the largest liquefied natural gas export project in North America, which would be sited in British Columbia.

Shell CEO Peter Voser had last year said the “next tranche of growth” would be dominated by three projects: Qatar 4 LNG, Pearl GTL and oilsands expansion (see NGI, Feb. 6, 2012). The producer has invested more than $21 billion in Qatar over the last six years, making it the country’s largest foreign investor.

Roberto Kobeh Gonzalez, president of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organizations (ICAO), said Pearl’s GTL could revolutionize air travel and alternative energy efforts.

“We really welcome this project as an example of the varying biofuel solutions that can be applied in different areas around the globe,” Kobeh said in Doha. “Commercial flights on sustainable alternative fuels are now a reality…

“Airlines are using drop-in biofuels that do not require changes to aircraft design or fuel delivery systems. Facilitating the availability of such fuels at competitive prices and in sufficient quantities for use in aviation is the next challenge, one for which an ICAO expert group is currently developing global policies.”

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