A Qatar Airways aircraft this week completed the world’s first commercial passenger flight powered by a fuel made from natural gas.
The six-hour journey from London Gatwick to Doha, the capital of Qatar, was powered by a Shell-developed 50-50 blend of synthetic gas-to-liquids (GTL) kerosene and conventional oil-based kerosene fuel. Qatar expects to become the world’s leading producer of GTL kerosene with the start of commercial production in 2012.
Called GTL Jet Fuel, the 50-50- blend burns with lower sulphur dioxide and particulate emissions than pure conventional oil-based kerosene, making it attractive for improving local air quality at busy airports, according to Shell.
The flight was the latest step in over two years of scientific work carried out by a consortium consisting of Airbus, Qatar Airways, Qatar Petroleum, Qatar Science & Technology Park, Rolls-Royce, Shell and WOQOD into the benefits of using GTL Jet Fuel to power commercial aircraft. Much of this work is being undertaken at the Qatar Science & Technology Park in Doha.
“GTL technology enables us to produce liquid fuels and other products from natural gas,” said His Excellency Abdulla bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Energy and Industry of the State of Qatar. “Commercial aviation is one of the exciting new markets that this opens up, helping us maximise the value from our natural resources.”
A delegation of consortium members and international media was onboard flight QR076 for the milestone trip. Data from the GTL flight will be used by scientists in Qatar to further quantify GTL Jet Fuel use benefits.
The GTL kerosene will be produced in commercial quantities by the Pearl GTL project, currently under construction by Qatar Petroleum and Shell. The project is expected to produce around one million tonnes per annum of GTL kerosene from 2012, enough to power a typical commercial airliner for half a billion kilometres (equivalent to carrying 250 passengers around the world 4,000 times) when used in a 50 per cent blend to make GTL Jet Fuel.
“This is a major breakthrough which brings us closer to a world where fuels made from feedstocks such as wood-chip waste and other biomass is available for commercial aviation,” said Rainer Ohler, senior vice president of public affairs and communications for Airbus. “Airbus predicts that in 2030, up to 30 per cent of jet fuel will be alternative.”