The next phase of the natural gas revolution could be taking shape in the bustling West Seventh Street corridor. Occupying a modest Carroll Street workspace, Carbon Sciences Inc. surveys its North Texas environs for its first gas-to-liquids plant. “What we’ve been brought in to do is develop a gas-to-liquids plant, and we’re considering several locations but have a big focus on Texas right now,” said Kendall Carew, 24, vice president of business development for the company, based in Santa Barbara, Calif. Its new Fort Worth office signifies a commitment to tap Barnett Shale resources.
At a time when many energy companies are pulling out of the Barnett – or at least refocusing on natural gas liquids after lower natural gas prices took their toll on industry profits – Carew pointed to gas’ potential as a conventional fuel source for transportation. “Conventional” is key for a company aiming not to feed growing numbers of fuel pumps selling compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas, but rather to transform natural gas into fuel for conventional diesel engines.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” Carew emphasized. “With this technology, natural gas can be transformed into diesel fuel and used in any diesel engine without modification.” The concept is nothing new. Companies such as Altona Energy PLC in England already pursue similar ends by transforming coal into diesel fuel. In 2011, Altona announced plans to construct a coal-to-liquids plant and electricity-generating facility in Australia. The process was developed during World War II to supply fuel for the German military and later developed by energy company Sasol in South Africa to ensure adequate liquid fuel in the apartheid era, when sanctions blocked oil tanker deliveries. While Altona and Sasol look to coal to fuel the transformative process, Carew and colleague Trey Smith consider natural gas the bedrock of their ambitions.
“This has a lower carbon footprint,” said Smith, 32, the company’s executive vice president, comparing his company’s gas-to-liquids process with that of liquefied natural gas. “Another plus to GTL [gas to liquids] is it can go into the current retail infrastructure at any pump station,” Smith said. Smith and Carew hope to build the company’s first gas-to-liquids plant in North Texas, but no location has been chosen. They say their company has created technology capable of producing cleaner transportation fuels from natural gas. Their aim is to enable the nation to reduce its dependence on petroleum by transforming natural gas into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, along with other products such as hydrogen, methanol, ammonia and detergent alcohols. The process turns natural gas into synthetic gas, or what industry players call “syngas.” An industry analyst and educator commended the effort but questions the timing. “These guys may have a winner here, but they may have some hurdles in getting it to market,” said Ken Morgan, director of Texas Christian University’s Energy Institute. “Prices are dropping now, which may make things hard for them,” said Morgan, explaining that the company must compete with already dropping fuel prices.
While acknowledging shifting market conditions, Carew and Smith point to promising market potential. With global oil consumption exceeding 86 million barrels of crude each day for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel production, according to a recent International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook, market demand appears solid. Though new to their West Seventh Street area office, the executives are no strangers to Fort Worth. Smith was a sales leader for Harold A. O’Neill Co., with offices in Roanoke, which he joined in 1999 to serve oil and gas original equipment manufacturers. And earlier this year, he was named president of Galtway Industries LLC in Trophy Club, which provides supply chain solutions to oil and gas industry technologies. Meanwhile, Carew cut his teeth on Eagle Ford Shale mineral purchasing while with Crimson Exploration Inc. He recently completed an urban green space development along the Trinity River in Fort Worth and received a bachelor of science degree in general studies with emphasis on earth sciences from TCU. The executives’ Fort Worth presence portends more local employment. Carbon Sciences expects to hire an unspecified number of engineers, as well as construction workers, when the plant location is selected and production begins. The company’s main objective is to use a resource underlying Cowtown and much of North Texas to pursue energy independence. “Unlocking this potential from a shale formation is what we believe is the key to energy independence,” Smith said. More information is available at www.carbonsciences.com.