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Synthesis Energy Systems Options Up to 15 Methanol-to-Gasoline Technology Licenses for Coal-to-Gasoline Projects

Synthesis Energy Systems, Inc. (SES), a gasification company, has entered into an agreement with ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company that provides SES the option to execute up to 15 Methanol-to-Gasoline (MTG) technology (earlier post) licenses at its U-GAS coal gasification plants globally.

MTG is one of several pathways for converting syngas to transportation fuels, the Fischer-Tropsch process being another. The MTG technology converts crude methanol directly to low-sulfur, low-benzene 87 octane gasoline that can be sold directly or blended with conventional refinery gasoline. The gasoline yield from the process is about 89%; LPG yield is about 10%, and fuel gas, about 1%.

SES plans to utilize the MTG technology at its coal gasification projects under development in North America with partners in West Virginia, Mississippi and North Dakota. The Company believes that each of these projects, if completed, will produce approximately 100M gallons of gasoline per year.

By coupling the ExxonMobil proven MTG technology with our proprietary U-GAS process, we believe that we have completed the technology suite to fully execute our vision to convert low cost, abundant coal resources, including lignites and waste streams, into high value transportation fuels.

—Tim Vail, President and CEO of SES

This approach to converting coal to gasoline first gasifies the coal, then converts the resulting syngas to methanol for use by the MTG process. The conversion of methanol to hydrocarbons and water is virtually complete and essentially stoichiometric in the MTG process. The reaction is exothermic with the reaction heat managed by splitting the conversion in two parts. In the first part, methanol is converted to an equilibrium mixture of methanol, dimethyl ether (DME), and water.

In the second part, the equilibrium mixture is mixed with recycle gas and passed over a shape-selective catalyst to form hydrocarbons and water. Most of the hydrocarbon product boils in the gasoline boiling range.

ExxonMobil calculates that a feed of around 4.6 million t/year of coal can produce about 1.4 million t/a gasoline—about 36,000 barrels per day. Yield and capital costs are dependent on the coal quality: ash content, moisture content, sulfur and heating value.

According to the technical analysis for California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard published by UC Davis in 2007, total lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for all energy products produced by the MTG process (without carbon capture and storage, CCS) are comparable to the high estimates for average coal-to-liquids process emissions (about 48.7 gCeq/MJ of refined product). However, emissions per MJ of gasoline delivered are much higher (64.69 gCeq/MJ of gasoline), according to the report.

By contrast, the report describes total emissions of gasoline produced from conventional oil as around 25.7 gCeq/MJ, and fuel derived from tar sands or extra heavy oil ranging from 29.4 to 35.9 gCeq/MJ. Estimates for oil shale fuels range from 33 to 70 gCeq/MJ.

The MTG process, notes ExxonMobil, is relatively uncoupled—i.e., it can work with a variety of coal-to-methanol systems. DKRW Advanced Fuels (DKRW), for example, is using GE gasifier technology (earlier post) with MTG as part of its coal to liquids (CTL) project in Medicine Bow, WY. (Earlier post.) DKRW says it is planning a carbon capture system for the project.




Pretty cool alternative to F-T gasoline from coal. Might even be cheaper.

Isn't it time we got past our carbon hysteria and addressed the real problem, the energy shortage problem? Carbon hysteria helped sink Lehman brothers and could sink the entire economy if we don't wake up. The best climate observations show temperatures stabilising or dropping in spite of upward fluctuations in CO2 atm.

If you get funding from carbon hysteria like Hansen and Mann, or make tens of millions from it like Gore, it makes sense. For everyone else, it's foolish.


I'm in favor if it can be done semi clean. I'm a little concerned that Exxon is involved in doing it.

Alex Kovnat

Alyssa, I hope you're right.

I have NO emotional, ego or intellectual need whatsoever for anthropogenic carbon dioxide-caused global warming to be a reality, although I am guilty of playing the global warming card to justify my opposition to limitations on availability of Hondas and Toyotas to the American road-going public.

I am still opposed to any restrictions on Japanese or other automotive imports. Americans deserve better than to be denied access to cars like the Prius and other examples of Japanese, Korean or European automotive engineering excellence, just to gratify the special interests of the GM-Ford-Chrysler-UAW complex.

However, I also believe we will all be better off if we don't have to squeeze the auto industry harder and harder on fuel economy issues, to prevent the world from coming to an end from global warming.

Assuming you are right - and I hope you are - there are numerous processes (i.e. hydrogenation, Fischer-Tropsch synthesis of hydrocarbons from CO-H2 mixtures, synthesis of methanol followed by MTG processes) by which any kind of coal, peat, or biomass can be processed into gasoline. Said gasoline would be no more "synthetic" than the highly processed, highly refined unleaded gasolines we are currently using.


It is a convenient excuse to blame the left for no CTL, when it is investment in it that is lacking. Exxon and Chevron could build lots of CTL plants if they wanted and it is not the environmentalists stopping them. They think there are better ways, but they are not chaining themselves to bulldozers.


So you guys won't mind if we try sequestering CO2 to the tune of 11.7MT/plant/year under your house, right?... It will be more than that even, as gasoline weight isn't 100% carbon.

Henry Gibson

Except for taking up about twice as much space per unit energy, methanol is a superior engine fuel to gasoline. It can be stored for decades without much change prior to use or conversion into gasoline. It seems that the conversion process to gasoline is very direct and much simpler than refining other synthesis products. The conversion of methane or coal to methanol is well understood and is also quite direct. The partial direct oxidation of (CH4) Methane to Methanol (H3COH) is the HOLY GRAIL of the petrochemical industry that has not been comercialized. But Steam-oxygen methane reforming works to make gas that can be turned into methanol.

Methanol can be much easier converted into dimethyl ether (DME) and this works as a superior diesel engine fuel that must be stored like propane. It can be used like propane for most purposes as well.

Massive amounts of methanol could be stockpiled for conversion as needed into gasoline, DME and perhaps jetfuel. The methanol could be stored in large salt caverns even.

There is a coal to synthetic natural gas factory in North Dakota that ships its CO2 to Canada to be pumped down oil wells to double the production of crude oil. It is now quite clear that they should also produce methanol for conversion into gasoline.

It is people that breathe out CO2 from eating food, and they also burn gas, gasoline and diesel. Oil companies do not force you to burn fuels. Any carbon worries should go to the people who buy foods and fuels. There should be a large carbon tax on fuels that go up exponentially with their amount. You are not rationed you just have to pay double the cost or more the more you use above a minimum. All gasoline stations can be now tied into a data base and gasoline can only be bought with a US gasoline ID credit card.

To have a low carbon, actually minus, fuel use nuclear reactors to make methanol out of CO2 and water.

Much as kerosine was lamp fuel of the world in 1890 and later, Methanol should be the universal fuel for the world. Very simple stoves can cook with it, pressure lanterns can be built to give the glowing white light with it and there are small methanol fuel cells. ..HG..

P Schager

All that work, and energy sacrifice, to turn methanol into an inferior fuel. At the risk of sounding like an echo, methanol is a superior fuel to gasoline in so many ways that it is obvious that the point here is to maintain our addiction to a rigid fuel supply specification that is stuck in the past and keeps us chained mainly to petroleum.

Methanol may have half the energy density of gasoline, but if cars had not been poisoned by the requirement of gasoline compatibility (and inflexible engine design) but rather exploited methanol's high octane, high compression, high efficiency capability, most of that difference in fuel tank size would go away. The rest would be made up for by the smaller engine. The methanol-optimized engine would also be cleaner for a given amount of aftertreatment hardware, more powerful, and keep oil clean a long time. A methanol fire is easily doused with water. And in a PHEV, you would not be worrying about stale gasoline.

Also, if there is ever going to be an industry of fuel cell cars, the proposal that made the most sense was to use on-board reformers and methanol for the hydrogen source. This was the widely-agreed best bet in the 1990's, until the time an oil company took over the line of technology development/patent portfolio-building (showing no interest in the methanol angle, preferring a special gasoline which is less practical). They then reported to the world that on-board reformers were impractical, we need to go with vehicle-stored hydrogen. Of course, we all know now that the fuel cell and this (still requiring 700 bar tanks) in one big jump was biting off more than we could chew. Of course under the gallant leadership of our thoroughly oil-vested upper crust nobody ever looked back.

DME is also a superior fuel and better use for your methanol feedstock, for use in diesel engines. It would also be the other fuel that both stores easily and reforms to hydrogen easily.

Aviation fuel is better synthesized from biofuels via a more direct route.

Methanol can be synthesized in a variety of ways, some of which are net-zero carbon. It's not as good at promoting CO2-neutrality as electricity, or hydrogen if we could get it to work, but it is far better than gasoline. It is fully suitable from an oil-independence point of view, to tame the geopolitical problems related to oil. And the economic problems. In a PHEV world, it would give us a quite good enough solution for many years to come. There are a few other good fuel options. Gasoline is not one of them.

And if you are going to synthesize gasoline, you should find a feedstock that is not already a better fuel. As soon as the carbon taxes hit, there won't be much call for the process described in this article. Sorry.


"As soon as the carbon taxes hit," keep dreaming the first admin to put carbon taxes will be the LAST admin of that party people vote with there wallets more than anything else. You have to please your voters to keep power and its political suicide to say carbon tax let alone try and get one passes. The earth as cooled in the last 10 years because the sun has entered a prolonged period of lower output this will last up to 50 years convincing people to pay out the nose when the global temperatures are dropping is just not going to happen. Besides the earth as only had co2 levels this low once before in the Ordovician all other times have been 4 to 15 times as much that's geologic fact ask any Geologist for the evidence.Given that the earth has had multiple eras of prolonged ICE AGES while CO2 levels were much much higher than presently the argument for AGW is lossing ground solar output and orbit cycles are and will continue to be the governing factor for earths variable climate and yes earths climate has never ever been stable over geologic time that much is fact every few tens of thousands of years the earth climate swings violently hot or cold in the space of a few decades or centuries that much is also geologic fact. follow the money a few people are getting very rich off AGW and the true goal of power over lifestyle choices is comming to the center stage of the publics mind eye. people are finally waking up to the realization that those who control your energy supplies control your life choices.The green movement is well known for there marxist goals and the public are waking up to this fact in more and more numbers.

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