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A new report by NETL confirms that it would be technically feasible to produce jet fuel at the Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) by converting natural gas from wells on the property into liquid fuel using a commercially available technology — a step that could build upon the airport’s already successful grid independence initiatives, insulate the airport from fuel disruptions in the marketplace, and provide a path to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
NETL Confirms Technical Feasibility of Pittsburgh International Airport Gas-to-Fuel Plant for Jet Fuel Production

A new report by NETL confirms that it would be technically feasible to produce jet fuel at the Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) by converting natural gas from wells on the property into liquid fuel using a commercially available technology — a step that could build upon the airport’s already successful grid independence initiatives, insulate the airport from fuel disruptions in the marketplace, and provide a path to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The NETL conceptual study indicates that it is technically feasible to construct and operate a gas-to-liquids (GTL) facility on the property that could produce about 6,000 barrels per day (70 million gallons per year) of synthetic jet fuel. Availability of jet fuel in those volumes could supplant nearly all of current jet fuel consumption at PIT and have excess production capacity that could be made available for the United States Air Force (USAF) Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station and the USAF 171st Air Refueling Wing co-located at the airport. 

The report estimates that plant design and construction would take approximately four years and cost between $550 million and $740 million.

The GTL approach is consistent with energy self-sufficiency steps already taken at the airport. Last summer, PIT, managed by the Allegheny County Airport Authority, established itself as a leader in resiliency by becoming the first major U.S. airport to have a self-sustaining microgrid producing electricity, heating and cooling for airport operations powered by natural gas and solar power produced on the airport property.

GTL technology converts natural gas into liquid hydrocarbons, including synthetic jet fuel. The report suggests that in addition to providing a steady supply of jet fuel for daily operations, a GTL facility at PIT could help insulate the airport from possible supply disruptions. 

In addition, NETL’s Tom Tarka, one of the authors of the report, said that a potential PIT GTL facility could “provide a pathway to renewable jet fuel production and reduced greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector, particularly if renewable natural gas is used as a feedstock or other renewable energy sources are used for energy inputs.”

He explained that GTL offers a pathway opportunity to reduce aviation climate impacts by enabling the use of low-carbon inputs, either as feedstocks or energy sources, which will reduce the life cycle greenhouse gas impacts compared to conventional, petroleum-derived fuels. In addition, the facility would incorporate carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies to reduce CO2 emissions at the facility.

The NETL report concluded that creation of a GTL facility at PIT “has the potential to become a living laboratory and test bed for further technological advances. The proximity to several premier academic, industrial, and governmental research institutions; abundant supplies of domestic natural gas; and a regional commitment to energy innovation all underscore this potential.”

A living laboratory approach could provide a range of potential opportunities, from the ability to test newly developed catalyst technologies for CO2 conversion into jet fuel to the development of multi-scale models leading to the next generation of GTL process designs. 

“If successful, this innovation center will have wide ranging impacts, including creating new opportunities for gas that is currently being flared to be monetized, reducing environmental impacts, and broadening the applicability of the GTL technology to feedstocks such as wastes and biomass,” Tarka added.

To prepare the report, NETL researchers assessed the commercial availability of various GTL technologies and performed a techno-economic analysis to determine the projected cost, fuel price, and environmental performance of the proposed facility. 

In addition to Tarka, the report was researched and authored by: former NETL researcher Matthew Jamieso; Timothy J. Skone of NETL; Kaitlyn Fleury, an NETL contractor; Vasudev Haribal, an independent consultant; and Stephen LeViness, Raghubir Gupta, and Srijana Rai, all of Susteon Inc.

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.