This City-Sized Gas Plant Has The Next Big Idea To Save The Planet

Nine billion tons of things you buy get to your hands via trucks. Most structures are put up by cranes and bulldozers. All those vehicles run on diesel, and at the Pearl Plant in Qatar, Shell is cooking up an alternative fuel that could drop directly in those engines, making them immediately more efficient and more ecologically friendly.

If that sounds suspiciously benevolent for a successful corporation, I'm sure they're not planning on giving the stuff away.

Ras Laffan Industrial City, this ominous-looking patch of pipework in the middle of the desert, is currently cranking out 140,000 barrels of fuel every day. Shell's Global Manager of Technology Richard Tucker told the Commercial Carrier Journal that the plant is also developing new fuels and lubricants to keep the hydrocarbon-powered-machine that is the world economy running.

One of their most exciting prospects is a high cetane (easier to ignite) diesel that's created from abundant natural gas. It's odorless, colorless, and gives an engine twice the energy of the diesel our semi-trucks and construction vehicles are running now, and with only trace amounts of sulfur in emissions.

The Commercial Carrier Journal reports that this new diesel is being run right now in Germany and the Netherlands, with no modification whatsoever to the vehicles using it.

While it apparently does meet "US specifications" for diesel fuel, Tucker says world-wide implementation is still some years off.

But the proposition remains enticing. One of the greatest barriers to adopting alternative fuel sources in the transportation and construction industries is the prohibitively high cost of retrofitting or replacing existing vehicles. But a refined natural-gas based diesel fuel that could readily be used in the existing infrastructure, like what Shell's extracting through their Gas-To-Liquid process, could overcome that issue.

Running on existing technology also eases the cost of building a supply system, as truckers could fall back on existing fuel options over the course of the adoption process.

"Cleaner diesel engines" are a relatively short-term solution to a long-term problem, but it seems like a step in the right direction to reduce our burden on the Earth. At least until we hit some horrible unintended consequences of ramped-up natural gas harvesting.

Image: Shell