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China Launches Major Dimethyl Ether-to-Olefin Project

Another major use for crude oil aside from transportation fuels is as the feedstock for the production of olefins (alkenes). Olefins include ethylene and propylene, and are the primary building blocks for products such as polyethylene (LDPE, HDPE, LLDPE), polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), ethylene glycol, and SBR/PBR rubber.

China is launching a major coal to dimethyl ether/methanol to olefin (DMTO) project, based on technology developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics.

CAS announced at a press conference that the Dalian Institute process has realized a 100% conversion rate of methyl alcohol with a higher than 90% selectivity ratio of light olefins (ethylene and propylene) at a pilot facility with a daily capacity of up to 50 tons.

Methanol, produced from syngas, can be used as a direct feedstock for the production of olefins, or it can be used to produce dimethyl ether via dehydration. There is also work on the direct production of DME from syngas.

The underlying Dalian process is called Syngas via Dimethyl ether to Olefins (SDTO). The Institute first built a pilot direct methanol to olefin (MTO) test plant in 1993 while it was developing the new indirect SDTO method.

In the SDTO process, a catalyst is applied to syngas to produce dimethyl ether, an then another catalyst is used to convert the DME to light olefins on a fluidized bed reactor.

In a report on the work in 2000:

Evaluation of the pilot plant data showed that 190–200 g of DME were yielded by single-pass for each standard cubic meter of synthesis gas. For the second reaction, 1.880 tons of DME or 2.615 tons of methanol produced 1 ton of light olefins, which constitutes of 0.533 ton of ethylene, 0.349 ton of propylene and 0.118 ton of butene.

The Dalian Institute is also exploring the direct conversion of syngas to light olefins.

Intermediate scale-up results showed the catalysts involved are stable at up to 1,000 hours of operation, and achieves a CO conversion of 90%, a DME conversion of almost 100%, and selectivity for C2~C4 olefins of greater than 90%, with the selectivity to ethylene higher than 50%.

Two other companies have developed coal-to-olefin technology, Universal Oil Products (UOP) and ExxonMobil.

The just-announced project has a planned annual olefins capacity of 3 million tons and will require an investment of RMB 22 billion (US$2.76 billion). The Shaanxi Xinxing Coal Technology Co., Ltd., will lead the project, and is looking for partners.

Earlier, China National Coal Group announced that it will use the DMTO technology at a plant it recently acquired from Harbin Coal Chemical Engineering company. China National Coal plans to produce 600,000 tons of ethylene and propylene per year within the next three years.




Another nail in the planet's coffin.


I really don't understand how Coal to anything make it onto this site. Converting coal to any liquid/gas is a pollution nightmare, definately not green.

The only way to make coal "clean" is not to use it. Unfortunately the US and China have so much of, sooner or later it will all get burnt.


We need to see these items on this site so we know the dark side of energy use.

Bike Commuter Dude

I agree, keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
The only good thing about coal, in my opinion, is that it will be there as a backup for a few years as we take the plunge into sustainable energy.
However, the new process available from GreenFuel technologies may just change the way we percieve the danger of coal.

allen Z

JM, Bike Commuter Dude,
Correct. On top of that, many of the coal to fuel tech may be modified to Biomass to fuel production. In this case, it is fossil synfuel to organic materials/plastics. Once biomass production comes online, biomass synfuel or basic chemical/element building blocks for which many organic are derived from, will be used to make various materials/chemicals.

Paul Dietz

I really don't understand how Coal to anything make it onto this site.

Use of coal is the 'null hypothesis' that alternatives will be measured against, so it does make sense to bring it up here, if only so the possibilities can fight it out.

Coal could be green, if carbon sequestration is taken seriously (including but not limited to extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere). Perhaps a requirement for sequestration couldn't be enforced globally, but in that case a ban on coal probably couldn't be enforced either (unless the alternatives were truly cheaper even ignoring externalities).


I agree with Paul Dietz. Look at it this way. The world could use coal and oil to make the plastics for electric cars, and run the electric cars off wind and solar. This way, the carbon is sequestered and recycled in the solid plastics. And then the only way its gets burnt is in a car accident.

The way this originally made it on this site, is the previous post regarding DME was that China was to use the DME as a diesel fuel. Which is politically and security wise. But not so Greenhouse wise.

Right now, Can anybody show me how E85 (with US made corn ethanol)(by being fermented in coal fired plants, with coal mined with Diesel equipment) and planted and harvested with Diesel equipment is doing anything to reduce US petroleum imports?

It seems like American coal sourced petroleum fuel reduces the transportation pollution and consumption. Is cheaper than overseas oil. And helps to prevent mercury from being belched out of power plant stacks. These are all small but significant improvements. Its still mined with Diesel equipment. But its not transported 12000 miles with Diesel Ships or converted into a product with less fuel capacity.


I keep saying it; impose a strict carbon cap and let consumers decide how much they want coal based products vs alternatives.

BTW I don't think wind and solar will be enough to charge up electric cars/light rail to the extent envisioned. That means wind, solar and nuclear for electrified transport and other grid users. Then biomass and CO2 constrained coal for liquid fuels and chemical feedstock.


BTW I don't think wind and solar....

"Bob Liden, SES executive vice president and general manager, says solar electric generation dish arrays are an option for power in parts of the country that are sunny like New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Nevada. They could be linked together to provide utility-scale power. A solar dish farm covering 11 square miles hypothetically could produce as much electricity per year as Hoover Dam, and a farm 100 miles by 100 miles in the southwestern U.S. could provide as much electricity as is needed to power the entire country."

They are already building these en masse in CA. notice, no nuclear involved. Plus charging usually takes place at night. Right now we have enough electricity to handle this.


It always makes me worry when oil companies are involved in energy projects other than those directly having to do with oil and natural gas. Because I don't trust these greedy people, I think they are there to protect their interest and that including controlling any new forms of energy. They are deeply involved in solar panels, batteries, and the new alternative fuels; maybe even more new forms of energy. I don't think they are there for any other reason except to slow down any technology that challenges their present lock on energy. And they have billions to move the industry in whatever direction is to their benefit. especially with their influence in the white house and Congress. "What's good for the oil companies is good for America." Not!


Good point. The battery maker that was slated to make the NiMH battery for the EV 1 generation 2 with extended range was originally majority owned by GM. GM sold it to an oil company (I cannot remember it now)We never heard about the extended range EV 1 after that. This is documented in "Who killed the electric car".


I have really big troubles to understand how oil companies are going to slow down development of alternative energy sources by investing billions of dollars in its development…


methanol to olefin (MTO) process is developped by ExxonMobil (pilot in Baytown, TX, USA), UOP/Hydro (pilot in Norway), Lurgi (pilot in Norway), UOP/Total (pilot in Belgium building in 2007) and JGC Corp (DME to propylene DTP, pilot in Japan 2007). Methanol/DMe can be produced from coal, nat. gas or biomass industrialy making possible alternative routes to light olefins which price is sky-rocketting.
there is no coal to olefins processes, it is a 2 step process via methanol/DME. Therefore methanol/DME can be produced or bought from others to feed the MTO train.

Selim/Process engineer

Cheryl Ho

Currently, the market trend today is such that many Chinese coal chemical companies are moving towards optimising low cost and abundant coal feedstock for expansion into DME production.

If you would like to know more on COAL to Syngas to DME developments, join us at upcoming North Asia DME / Methanol conference in Beijing, 27-28 June 2007, St Regis Hotel. The conference covers key areas which include:

DME productivity can be much higher especially if
country energy policies makes an effort comparable to
that invested in increasing supply.
National Development Reform Commission NDRC
Ministry of Energy for Mongolia

Production of DME/ Methanol through biomass
gasification could potentially be commercialized
Shandong University completed Pilot plant in Jinan and
will be sharing their experience.

Advances in conversion technologies are readily
available and offer exciting potential of DME as a
chemical feedstock
By: Kogas, Lurgi and Haldor Topsoe

Available project finance supports the investments
that DME/ Methanol can play a large energy supply role
By: International Finance Corporation

For more information:,

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