Qatar Airways plans to become the world's first airline to operate its fleet on jet fuel derived from natural gas, an official said yesterday.
The state-owned airline is partnering with Royal Dutch Shell and Qatar Petroleum to produce jet fuel from gas reserves mined at the country's North Field.
"We're looking at this very seriously and have vowed to become the first airline to do this," said Ali Al Rais, general manager of commercial operations at Qatar Airways.
With oil threatening to top $100 a barrel, he said the new fuel source would be a welcome alternative for the rapidly growing airline at a time when the industry has grappled with soaring fuel costs.
Jet fuel from liquefied gas is said to be more cost-efficient and fuel-efficient than that produced from crude oil. It would also help the airline leverage Qatar's massive gas reserves, the world's third largest behind Russia and Iran.
According to reports, the so-called Pearl gas-to-liquids (GTL) project will produce 120,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day of condensate, liquefied petroleum gas and ethane.
However, Al Rais declined to give a timeframe in which the airline could expect a stable supply of the alternative fuel.
Other factors suggest the project could be years away from completion, including new requirements for jet engines.
"This is in the experimental phase so far. While this is used in cars, it hasn't been done at high atmospheres," Al Rais said.
"[Jet engine makers] Rolls-Royce and GE may have to totally change their engine technology."
Annalie Brown, a spokes-person for Rolls Royce, confirmed the technology would require a substantial amount of new research.
"The industry is just coming to grips with what needs to be done to assess the viability of alternative fuel sources," she told Gulf News.
To date the only research Rolls Royce has been actively involved in is a bio-fuels project with Air New Zealand. ( Gulf )