GTL Americas working with Hyundai to design a fuel factory in Jefferson County

Left to right: S&B CEO Brook Brookshire, Hyundai Engineering CEO H.S. Han, GTLA Chairman Roger Williams and GTLA President Leon Codron sign a contract associated with Hyundai and S&B’s work on GTLA’s planned natural gas-to-liquid fuel production facility in Jefferson County on Wednesday at the Little Rock Marriott, 3 Statehouse Plaza

Little Rock company GTL Americas said Wednesday that South Korean conglomerate Hyundai ENG America and Houston-based S&B Engineers and Constructors will be its design and planning partners for a facility near Pine Bluff designed to turn natural gas into high-grade diesel, naphtha and jet fuel.

GTL Americas said their long-planned Jefferson County project, near Interstate 530 and the U.S. Army’s Pine Bluff Arsenal, will be the largest in Arkansas’ industrial history, manufacturing 1.7 million gallons of transportation fuels per day alongside 150 megawatts of carbon-free electricity. (The two units of the Arkansas Nuclear One power plant in Russellville have a combined maximum dependable capacity of 1,824 megawatts.)

Hyundai ENG America, based in Houston, will work with GTL Americas to estimate any technical issues in the project as well as investment costs, project scope, a timeline and an initial risk assessment.

Hyundai will also do engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning work, with S&B, which has experience in the oil and gas industries, doing engineering and construction.

The design phase is scheduled to last into late 2025, after which the construction phase will begin and last into 2028. Commissioning is to begin that year and end in 2029, when commercial operations are scheduled to begin.

A final investment decision is forthcoming and scheduled to occur after the design phase. Debt financing is expected to underwrite up to 70% of project’s cost. Pending review of the books, Amsterdam-based ING Group; Turin, Italy-based Intesa Sanpaolo; Frankfurt, Germany-based KfW IPEX-Bank; and Tokyo-based MUFG Bank are ready to underwrite a majority of the project’s debt requirements.

The Arkansas Teacher Retirement System is a lead project sponsor, having invested $30 million into it in 2018. Little Rock-based Energy Security Partners and the Seoul, South Korea-based Hanwha Group conglomerate are the other lead project sponsors.

Company President Leon Codron described the gas-to-liquids products as “ultra-clean” in a statement. Such natural gas-to-liquid fuels can be blended with conventional fuels or used alone, in existing storage and logistical networks.

The synthetic fuel is comparable to ultra-low-sulfur diesel and synthetic jet fuel is comparable to Jet A-1 specification jet fuel, GTL Americas said. Both fuels are “environmentally superior and better performing” to the crude oil-derived fuels. Renewable energy and battery power is not yet viable to replace them.

GTL Americas says the project will directly create at least 225 new full-time jobs and around 2,500 temporary construction jobs during a three-year construction phase and commissioning period.

“GTLA’s facility will be a fantastic addition to our economy, bringing hundreds of full-time, permanent jobs to our county and surrounding counties. It will showcase Jefferson County’s assets — its strategic location, workforce, abundant natural resources, and more — and why other industries should invest here,” said Allison J.H. Thompson, president and Chief Executive Officer of the country’s Economic Development Alliance, in a statement.

News has dribbled out about GTL Americas’ Jefferson County project over the years. The construction cost was estimated to be $3.5 billion in 2018, and GTL Americas announced that it had contracted with St. Louis company Geotechnology to do soil and seismic testing on the site in 2021. The $3 billion U.S. Steel-owned Big River Steel mini mill in Osceola, announced in January 2012, is the largest economic development project in Arkansas history.

Natural gas prices have wildly fluctuated in recent years, in large part because of interruptions in the global supply chain driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The product’s density benefits industry through its stability and ease of transport, in terms of both cost and logistics. Natural gas is the smallest hydrocarbon and combusts with the least amount of oxygen, leading to a smaller emission of greenhouse gasses than other fossil fuels.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the location of Hyundai ENG America's U.S. headquarters.