"Oryx works. We are producing GTL products and we are on target to have product ready for market by the end of the first quarter, as previously announced," Turner said.

  

The plant, which is 51-per cent-owned by Qatar Petroleum and 49 per cent by Sasol, is located at the Ras Laffan industrial city.

  

It will be fed from the country's massive North Field - part-shared with Iran - to produce 24,000 barrels per day (bpd) of diesel, 9,000 bpd of naphtha and 1,000 bpd of liquefied petroleum gas that will be sold mostly in Europe.

  

Work on the project started in December 2003.

  

Qatar is aiming to be the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas by 2010, with an annual output of 30 million tonnes, and is pushing to take production to 45 million tonnes a year.

 

"It's time to take the genie out of the bottle," Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, Qatar's energy minister, said in an interview with the New York Times. "We want to be the capital of the world for this new age of fuels."

 

Al-Attiyah said Qatar is expected to invest more than $14 billion in capital over the next five to seven years.

 

The increase in oil prices and the advancement of GTL technology has spurred the interest of many countries, companies and investors in using GTL fuel as an alternative to conventional fuel.

 

Liquid petroleum gas production costs are low because it is a by-product of the oil-refining process with the oil refineries themselves using the product as a fuel source

 

With the emergence of natural gas as a clean and usable source of energy, Qatar is embarked on the commercialisation of its enormous gas reserves in the North Gas fields, utilising GTL technology.

 

Expanding market

 

However, Qatar is not the only player looking into the GTL market. Chevron is building a $3 billion complex in Nigeria to produce 34,000 barrels a day.

 

Syntroleum, a US based company is attempting to advance similar ventures in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

 

In Algeria, companies including Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil of Norway and Sasol are vying for a project focused on that country's Tinhert gas field.

 

Energy companies are also targeting gas-rich nations like Australia, Iran, Egypt and Trinidad and Tobago for projects.