Qatar Airways to fuel airplanes with natural gas

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Qatar Airways

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There are reports that Qatar Airways is slated to open a luxurious new airport that will include a 25-metre swimming pool and squash courts, among a slew of other amenities. But according to New York Times blogger Matthew L. Wald, it will be an extraordinary feat from an energy standpoint as well. The airport will be able to pump airline fuel made entirely from natural gas.

Wald writes that Qatar has relatively little oil and vast supplies of natural gas. Oil reportedly goes on tankers to far-off destinations. But moving natural gas is much harder for the Persian Gulf emirate. So Royal Dutch/Shell built a gas-to-liquids plant called Pearl that makes a variety of liquid fuels.

He explains, however, that Qatar is not the first one to conduct this particular approach:

“That would be South Africa, which was driven to make liquids from coal in the days when its apartheid regime faced trade sanctions and the country could not import oil. Now the country makes diesel and jet fuel from coal because it makes economic sense.

Liquids from coal and from natural gas are similar because the first step in either process is to turn the hydrocarbon fuel into a gas consisting of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. From there, further chemical processing yields hydrogen and carbon combinations that are liquid at room temperature.”

But, as Wald goes on to explain, environmentalists in South Africa’s case are horrified because such fuels have a bigger carbon footprint than fuel from ordinary oil because of all the extra processing involved.

The chief executive of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, reportedly visited Washington on Wednesday. Wald reports that he reasserted that the fuel is easier on the environment than jet fuel made from petroleum. That’s because it has no sulfur and thus does not produce sulfur dioxide, which is a more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide when emitted at low altitudes.

Secondly, Wald reports, is that the jet fuel from natural gas has slightly more energy per pound than jet fuel from petroleum. So flying a given distance requires fewer pounds of fuel. And the lighter the fuel, the greater the fuel economy, he said.

The airline reportedly has four aircraft with Rolls Royce engines. Wald says Rolls has approved the use of the fuel. Meanwhile, the carrier has 110 aircraft with General Electric engines, and is still waiting for formal approval from G.E.

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