State-owned oil and gas producer Uzbekneftegaz has commissioned a long-awaited gas-to-liquids plant to convert natural gas into jet fuel, diesel, naphtha and other petroleum products, aiming to reduce Uzbekistan's dependence on imports, mostly from Russia.

The commissioning of the GTL plant - the only such facility within the former Soviet Union - had been pushed backed almost a year and a half as a result of restrictions, evacuations and equipment supply challenges, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Started in 2016, a GTL project for producing petroleum products from natural gas on such a scale is unlikely to be repeated any time soon because of the because the heavy investments required, the energy inefficiencies inherent in the conversion process and the global backdrop of the energy transition.

Underlining the importance of the facility to Tashkent, the commissioning ceremony in the Kashkadarya region in Uzbekistan this past weekend was attended by country President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and other top officials.

According to the Uzbek Energy Ministry, investments in the plant have so far run to $3.4 billion, below a budgeted $3.6 billion.

The facility will be able to receive up to 3.6 billion cubic metres of methane per year and produce an estimated 724,000 tonnes of diesel fuel, 437,000 tonnes of naphtha, 307,000 tonnes of jet fuel and some liquefied propane and butane.

Capacity exceeds Uzbek domestic demand for diesel fuel and jet fuel, thus replacing imports of these products, and naphtha to be transferred to the nearby Shurtan gas processing plant, also operated by Uzbekneftegaz, to be used as feedstock for producing polymers.

Some of the produced diesel fuel and jet fuel are expected to ship to nearby Tajikistan, whose officials also attended the opening ceremony.

The Shurtan processing plant, which is still ongoing expansion, is a key element of the Uzbekistan GTL project, as it processes incoming natural gas to remove all hydrocarbons from the mixture to leave just methane to flow to the facility.

The GTL plant is expected to complete ramping up gas processing to reach its nameplate capacity by end of the first half of 2022, according to the ministry.

The Uzbek energy ministry stated that the plant is capable of running at five different configurations to increase production of different products in response to demand shifts

Low emissions

Speaking at the commissioning ceremony, Mirziyoyev said capacity to produce synthetic fuels from the plant was an important step forward, due to an estimated 40% reduction in emissions compared with fuels produced from conventional oil.

He said authorities will continue to foster the construction of polymer processing facilities in gas producing regions of the country to commercialise existing gas reserves and export “high-value polymers” instead of natural gas.

Exploration and search for new gas reserves will also continue across the country, according to Mirziyoyev.