The commissioning of Shell's massive Pearl gas-to-liquids (GTL) project in Qatar is imparting new momentum to an industry that has seen its share of disappointments over the past decade. Pearl will treble world-wide production of GTL. It will also make billions of dollars a year for Shell and for Qatar Petroleum.

As the industry looks to the coming decade, the fundamentals are lining up in favour of GTL as never before. Several technologies are now proven at scale, and new small-scale technologies are on their way to fruition.

Natural gas is more plentiful - and thus cheaper - than we thought, thanks to the unconventional gas revolution, while oil prices look likely to remain well above levels needed to make the economics of GTL look attractive. Finally, construction and finance costs have eased from their recent highs. For GTL, the future has never looked brighter.

This paper will examine the key economic drivers for GTL, summarise the progress of operational projects and those under construction, and consider what the future may hold for a technology whose time may at last have come.

It will conclude that in the current energy price environment, those projects already in operation will make very substantial profits for their owners. The key challenge remains getting the technology to work as intended.

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