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Uzbekistan pursues alternative fuels
GTL and LNG are among the most promising
By Shakar Saadi
TASHKENT – With oil and gas accounting for 97% of Uzbekistan’s energy resources, officials are looking for alternatives to create a mix of energy sources.
“These primary energy resources are exhaustible,” said Energy Ministry spokeswoman Gonira Mosaliyeva. “So a few years ago, Uzbekistan began thinking about alternative fuels.”
One of the most promising alternatives under development are gas-to-liquid fuels (GTL), derived from natural gas and other gaseous hydrocarbons. Uzbekistan will become the sixth country — the first in the CIS and Europe — to produce GTL fuels, said Uzbeknetftegaz spokeswoman Yelena Kim.
Uzbekneftegaz is currently working on 52 alternative-fuel investment projects with a total value of US $21.5 billion.
Kashkadarya Oblast will open the country’s first GTL plant in 2014, and will process methane from the Shurtan Gas Chemical Complex. Uzbekneftegaz, along with Malaysia’s Petronas and South Africa’s Sasol, are developing the project as equal shareholders.
The plant will annually turn 3.5 billion cubic metres of gas into 672,000 tonnes of diesel fuel, 278,000 tonnes of kerosene and 63,000 tonnes of liquefied natural gas, according to Shokir Faizullayev, chairman of Uzbekneftegaz.
Uzbekneftegaz is also considering building a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, Faizullayev said. The project’s estimated cost is US $50 billion with a target completion date of 2015. Uzbekneftegaz is seeking potential partners to do feasibility studies.
But possibilities other than LNG and GTL technologies warrant consideration “because natural gas reserves will be depleted by the 22nd century,” said Mavlyuda Munduzoda of the Tashkent-based Scientific Research Institute for Mineral Resources.
One project, set to begin operation in 2016 in Navoi Oblast, will extract shale oil and process it into petroleum products, producing 300,000 tonnes of petroleum products and 500,000 tonnes of hydrocarbons annually, said Nodir Hodzhayev, a colleague of Munduzoda’s.
Oil shale reserves in Uzbekistan are estimated at 47 billion tonnes, with the country’s major deposits 600m below the Kyzyl Kum Desert and the Baisun Mountains, Hodzhayev said.
“Uzbek oil shale is unique because in addition to the hydrocarbon component, a wide variety of nonferrous and rare metals are present – rhenium, uranium, selenium, cadmium, cobalt and nickel,” he said.
Uzbekistan is developing biotechnology to process the shale, Hodzhayev said. “The use of micro-organisms to break down the shale may improve its quality and increase the shale’s yield of ... gasoline,” he said.
Estonian companies proposed sharing their expertise to develop Uzbekistan’s oil shale deposits during a visit by Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip last autumn.
Estonia produces gasoline, lubricants and detergents from oil shale. Both energy and production costs are lower than with oil and natural gas. Estonia also fuels thermal power plants with shale oil, and the waste ash is used to manufacture lightweight wall panels.
Uzbekistan uses Estonian shale tar to stop the shifting of the Kyzyl Kum sands.
The Japanese have also expressed interest in developing an oil shale-processing plant in Uzbekistan. Last June, Tokyo hosted the signing of a four-party agreement by Uzbekistan’s Economic Relations, Investment and Trade Ministry, the Uzbek State Committee on Geology, Uzbekneftegaz and the Japanese Gas Corporation (JGC).
“The Japanese side has not yet given a clear answer concerning its participation,” Japanese Embassy in Uzbekistan spokeswoman Malika Hodzhayeva said. “A decision ... will be made after a geological survey of the country, which the Japanese companies JGC and Technopian Corporation will conduct.”
Expansion of the mineral-processing industry fits well into the country’s existing economic structure, Tashkent State Technical University Department of Oil and Gas Dean Bakhodir Aliyev said.
“In order to have sustainable development, a raw-material base must be sufficiently flexible and founded on the use of different, interchangeable types of organic material, not reliant solely on oil and gas,” Aliyev said.
Worldwide growth in energy consumption is fated to collide with depletion of resources, especially of oil, Aliyev said. Oil shale, though, he said, is abundant throughout the world.
However, Aliyev added, developing alternative hydrocarbon resources requires huge investments in exploration, scientific research, mining and manufacturing. Uzbekistan can’t afford those projects by itself, and is seeking foreign investment.
The country’s 2010 Investment Programme contains major projects being implemented during the 2009-2014 period, Kim said. These include the modernisation and technical development of production facilities, with the gas and oil industry receiving the most investment, she said.