Graphene paper shows promise for potential automotive lightweighting
Study of working fluid selection for organic Rankine cycle waste heat recovery

Swiss company outlines methanol-to-gasoline option for Alaska North Slope gas to state legislature

Mtg
Methanol-to-gasoline process flow diagram. Source: EMRE. Click to enlarge.

At a recent hearing of the Alaska state legislature’s House Resources Committee, Deo van Wijk, chairman of Swiss company Janus Methanol AG (formed in 2007), outlined a potential approach to converting North Slope gas to gasoline via the combination of a new methanol production technology (GigaMethanol) and the Methanol-to-Gasoline (MTG) process developed by ExxonMobil Research and Engineering (EMRE).

Under van Wijk’s concept, a plant would produce methanol from natural gas on the North Slope using the proposed GigaMethanol technology. The resulting methanol would be blended with crude and transported via the trans-Alaska oil pipeline to Valdez, where it would be extracted from the oil and processed via Methanol-to-Gasoline technology into gasoline.

Janus subsidiary acquiring Eastman methanol plant
In January, ICIS reported that Eastman Chemical reached an agreement to sell a mothballed Texas methanol and ammonia plant to Pandora Methanol, a subsidiary of Janus Methanol.
The plant will have a capacity of 850,000 tonnes/year of methanol and 250,000 tonnes/year of ammonia, according to van Wijk.
Van Wijk at the time said the new plant might consider the methanol-to-gasoline MTG process pioneered by ExxonMobil.
Eastman originally bought the plant in 2007 for a $1.6-billion coal-gasification project, but called off the project in late 2009 due to high capital requirements, the narrow difference between petroleum and natural gas prices and uncertain US energy policy.

Costs for a 63,000 barrel (of gasoline) per day system would be approximately $5.2 billion, he said. Gasoline could be delivered from Valdez at $2.65 to $2.85 per gallon, including a $1.45 margin.

In addition to providing a market for North Slope gas, the mix of methanol in the pipeline flow would help prevent problems with ice forming in the line, van Wijk, a former Methanex executive, suggested. If the entire daily output of North Slope gas (4.5 billion cubic feet, bcf) were converted to gasoline, it would produce 450,000 barrels per day, he suggested.

Janus, GigaMethanol and MTG. Janus Methanol is a methanol and chemical development and operating company. van Wijk, a former Methanex executive, formed Saturn Methanol which subsequently built Titan Methanol, a 2,500 tonne per day methanol production facility in Trinidad, and began Atlas Methanol, also in Trinidad. van Wijk sold Saturn to Methanex in 2000 due to funding issues. Atlas is now owned by Atlas Methanol Company, a joint venture between Methanex (63.1%) and BP Trinidad and Tobago (bpTT) (36.9%).

Atlas uses Lurgi’s MegaMethanol technology, which allows the cost-effective production of methanol from natural gas. Major process elements of the MegaMethanol technology are:

  • Oxygen-blown natural gas reforming, either in combination with steam reforming, or as pure autothermal reforming.

  • Two-step methanol and synthesis in water- and gas-cooled reactors operating along the optimum extraction route.

  • Adjustment of syngas composition by hydrogen recycle.

MegaMethanol technology supports the production of 5,000 tonnes of methanol per day in a single train. van Wijk is now proposing the commercialization of GigaMethanol technology, targeted to deliver 10,000 tonnes of methanol per day in a single train configuration based on Atlas. GigaMethanol would use Lurgi’s high-pressure autothermal reforming technology and two-stage methanol synthesis.

The resulting economy of scale would deliver a significant reduction in investment cost, van Wijk argues.

Given cost-effective methanol production, there are several established pathways for converting the methanol into fuels and chemicals: MTG; methanol to propylene (MTP); and methanol to olefins (MTO). MTG, which can be licensed from Exxon Mobil (earlier post) currently is the only commercially proven methanol conversion technology. MTG is in use in new Zealand, and now in China.

MTG synthesis reactions convert methanol into a mixture of C1-C10 hydrocarbons and free water; approximately 89% of the hydrocarbons are in the gasoline boiling range with 87 octane value ((R+M)/2). LPG accounts for the other major product stream (about 10%). By contrast, the Fischer-Tropsch process produces a range of hydrocarbons and oxygenates, with yields dependent on catalyst, temperature and specific technology. The products also require refining processes to convert the F-T liquids to conventional fuels.

The MTG reactor operates under moderate temperature and pressures, and the design allows for on-stream MTG catalyst regeneration and replacement. The current, second-generation technology now being applied in China is based on the more than 10 years of learnings from the New Zealand operation, and features improved heat integration and improved process efficiency.

A 2009 National Research Council study examining fuels from coal/biomass found that an MTG-based plant had slightly higher overall efficiency than F-T plants.

Mtg2
NRC comparison of F-T and MTG. Source: EMRE. Click to enlarge.

Resources

Comments

SJC

$2.65 to $2.85 per gallon, including a $1.45 margin.

When you can make more than $1 per gallon when the wholesale price for regular gasoline remains above $3 per gallon, it is a good business venture.

SJC

One thing that occurred to me is the BP pipelines were corroded because they did not clean them on a regular basis. Now they want to put methanol, a solvent IN the pipes that may not have been cleaned for years. This ought to be interesting.

Peter_XX

There are potentially some unknown problems with this technology. However, this is something that we could do today.

SJC

Oh yeah, I like the concept, just a few details came to mind.

Mannstein

Think positive the methanol will clean out the pipes.

Peter_XX

This technology was first developed by Mobil in the Mobil methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) process. A demonstration plant was completed in New Zealand in 1985. As many other inventions, this process was discovered by accident. A Zeolite (ZSM-5) was used to convert methanol to fuel additive. Instead, with increasing space time, olefins, paraffins and aromatics were produced, i.e. components of gasoline.

This technology seems to have been forgotten for a long time until a renewed interest emerged a couple of years ago. It is a competitor to Fischer-Tropsch, where the main product is diesel fuel. If the MTG process has higher selectivity and efficiency than the FT process, it is an interesting competitor. In the equation we also have to throw the higher efficiency of the diesel engine in comparison to the gasoline engine. Furthermore, the demand is increasing for diesel fuel, which would be an advantage for FT.

Another alternative is to just produce methanol and use that for gasoline blending (as done in China today) or in fuel-flexible or dedicated M85/M100 vehicles. Undoubtedly, the last option would have the highest efficiency but we would then need a new refueling infrastructure. MTG could be used today.

SJC

If we pass OFS, there will be millions more cars able to run M85 each year. This will provide us more options at a time when we can use them.

Engineer-Poet

Flex-fuel cars can run on alcohol blends, so using it as M85 is a no-brainer. You get a big boost in octane rating that way, so the other blending components don't need to be as carefully selected.

Peter_XX

Why would M85 be a "no-brainer"? By using your brain, you could do the following:

Utilization of M85 (or preferably M100) in a turbocharged DI engine would enable use of the evaporative cooling effect to obtain an equivalent octane number of up to 200, as described by MIT already a couple of years ago. You would get a dramatic improvement in engine efficiency, potentially equaling - or beating - the diesel engine. You could make this engine fuel-flexible but you would have to reduce the power considerably when running on gasoline, due to the low octane of gasoline. Since methanol is the most efficient liquid fuel you could produce from natural gas (and syngas), the combination with the most efficient engine (fuel converter) would be unbeatable. Whether you could improve further by using a fuel cell as energy converter remains to be seen.

SJC

It seems to be a matter or fitting solutions to the situation. Synthetic gasoline fits right in now. OFS FFVs that can run on ethanol, methanol and gasoline cost very little per unit for new cars and provides options that we do not have now.

That would require lining tanks at fueling stations and delivery of methanol to blender pumps, but it could be done. It appears that the best path is also the easiest. I do not subscribe to the idea that would stall a transition to EVs. If EVs have positive aspects, then they will progress at their own rate due to the merits.

Engineer-Poet

M100 engines aren't on the market yet. FF engines are, and there are probably 10 million of them in the USA right now. If we're looking at ways to drive the existing fleet, M85 cuts out the cost and energy loss of the MTG step; it is the obvious choice. I suspect that existing non-FF vehicles could run M10 or M15.

Regarding the piping of MeOH from the North Slope, this is also a good choice for a number of reasons:

  1. It increases the product volume of the Trans-Alaska pipeline, keeping it well above minimum operating levels and preventing the need for intermittent operation.
  2. It reduces the viscosity of the product, reducing pumping energy requirements.
  3. It eliminates difficulties with ice and methane hydrates.
  4. The anti-freeze nature of MeOH may make the pipeline immune to the "lipstick" phenomenon if it has to be shut down in cold weather and the crude gels; allowing all-weather restart capabilities is a big advantage.

Peter_XX

SJC
I agree… The problem with methanol is that nobody likes it. It has nothing to do with EVs.

If we go back to the original topic of the article, I think one can conclude that MTG could be exploited today. This technology seems more readily available than FT and has some additional advantages. It has just been forgotten (neglected?) for many years. On the longer term, there is a mismatch with diesel/gasoline supply but this will not stop people from building a lot of plants.

SJC

According to some on here, it has a LOT to do with EVs. I have read people post that we should not do liquid fuels at all, that EVs will save the day and any attempt at liquid fuels will just delay the day of enlightenment.

Peter_XX

Let those who want EVs buy them. I would bet my money on a delay.

SJC

I think it will be a while, there will be the early adopters which could include people that buy the first of everything, but whether it will continue to grow rapidly in sales remains to be seen. I hope it does.

Engineer-Poet

Something is eating my comments here (2 in one day).

M100 would be great, but there's no installed base of heavy-duty M100 engines to use it. M85 is a "no brainer" for the flex-fuel vehicles in the USA. As of 2009 there were roughly 8.9 million on the road, and there are probably 10 million now. These vehicles should be able to use M85, and M85 eliminates the cost and losses of the MTG step. At least some conventional vehicles should be able to use methanol blends equivalent to E10.

450 mbbl/d is the energy equivalent to about 270 mbbl/d of gasoline, or about 3% of US gasoline consumption. The existing FF fleet should be able to absorb this without difficulty. It truly is a no-brainer.

Peter_XX

Maybe I should ask people to read my comments more thoroughly… Since I am mostly discussing issues like this with engineers I might have been too brief, so I will elaborate a little more this time.

I did not refer to heavy-duty vehicles at all. There are many options (including M85) that would come before M100 in heavy-duty vehicles. I was referring to M100 in fuel-flexible cars. With new injection technology, blending with 15% gasoline would not be necessary. If we distribute M100, a blending pump could provide both M85 and M100 at the refueling station. This is if we want both options during a transitional period (i.e. M100 as the final solution) but we might also settle with M85.

US flex-fuel cars in the 1990's could use methanol. Most of them are scrapped now. New cars are optimized for E85 and often lack the volumetric capacity in the injection system to run M85. Some might not even tolerate M85 due to material compatibility. You would need a new generation of E85/M85 vehicles to be able to use M85 (again). A M85 vehicle can use both M85 and E85; an E85 vehicle cannot use M85. Note that it is not at all a difficult technical task to make M85 vehicle. By the way, M85 cars are produced in China today, albeit in low numbers so far.

Cars that are not fuel-flexible should tolerate a few per cent methanol. In Europe, blending is limited to 3% in the gasoline specification, so car manufacturers must adapt to this level. The limit is probably similar in the USA. However, there is a practical restriction with low-level blending. The oxygen content of gasoline is limited and when ethanol is already used as a blending component (E10), there is “no room” for methanol. Thus, methanol blending could only be done in those areas where ethanol blending is not used. Still, the potential is great and this is definitely the easiest way to introduce methanol on the market. One problem with low-level methanol blending (not with M85) is the increase in vapor pressure. Thus, the base gasoline must be modified. This is already done with the gasoline in E10 but the capacity to produce this gasoline quality would have to be increased. (The increase in vapor pressure is higher for methanol than for ethanol.)

Alcohol blending provides little – or no – improvement in engine efficiency. With dedicated vehicles (M85 or M100) optimized for the high methanol content, we could improve efficiency and displace more gasoline. Therefore, this solution would be desirable on a long-term horizon. However, gasoline via MTG could be introduced on the market without any of the considerations discussed above.

SJC

Peter,

We kind of get the idea, explaining it slowly is just insulting.

Engineer-Poet
I did not refer to heavy-duty vehicles at all.
Sorry, I'm recalling a study showing that highly boosted engines running on MeOH can achieve the output of an 11-liter diesel from just 4 liters of displacement; the combination of knock resistance and homogeneous charge (stoichiometric combustion without smoke) allows the engine to be downsized severely even for heavy-duty applications.
New cars are optimized for E85 and often lack the volumetric capacity in the injection system to run M85.
That may not be such a big issue. If lean operation can't be permitted while meeting emissions, transmission shifts can be scheduled earlier to limit max RPM to what the fuel system can supply. That's a software upgrade.

An alternative which requires only material compatibility is to use a lower methanol content so that the volumetric fuel requirement does not exceed specs for E85. I make that around M50. Calculating backwards from the delivered cost of MTG gasoline at Valdez, the cost of the methanol is around $.65/gallon; M50 would be very attractive at that price.

Cars that are not fuel-flexible should tolerate a few per cent methanol.
And the 450 mbbl/d is about 5% of US gasoline demand, which is in the ballpark.
gasoline via MTG could be introduced on the market without any of the considerations discussed above.
The problem with MTG plants is that they are an investment with a 50-year life and about 20 years of usefulness. This creates pressure to extend the use of MTG long after it makes no sense to keep it on the market. Building long-term solutions to temporary problems is part of how we wound up in our current mess, and I'd prefer to avoid making that particular mistake again.

Peter_XX

Poet,
M85 in E85 cars? If you run slightly lean at high load, you will get monumentally high NOx emissions. NOx reduction in the catalyst does not work at all and engine-out NOx is very high. This is totally unacceptable! I am surprised that you apparently do not know such fundamental facts. No software update can fix that, i.e. the problem that injector capacity is too low. You simply have to design an engine for M85! Then, what about the material compatibility? This alone is a show-stopper.

The only real problem with methanol is that nobody likes it. M85/M100 is possible but is (currently) not accepted as an option by car manufacturers and oil companies.

I do not bother to comment on your other statements but conclude that we seem to agree on that low-level blending of methanol is possible.

Peter_XX

I might add that if you run a three-way catalyst at high power under lean conditions, you will kill it in a very short time. Stratified charge engines today only run lean at low loads. At high loads, they all run stoichiometric or slightly rich.

Furthermore, a recent study in Australia showed that you could run into this problem also with low-level blending if the blending level is too high (>10%).

Engineer-Poet

Methanol burns very cool, so NOx isn't going to be much of an issue. Toyota built a lean-burn methanol engine with less than 1 g/mile NOx.

Materials compatibility isn't A show-stopper, it is more or less THE show-stopper. Get that out of the way and every other technical issue is easy. If a substantial part of the existing fleet is compatible, we could jump on that bandwagon today. Other vehicles might be convertible with e.g. new seals.

The problem with methanol is that Big Agriculture doesn't like it. Methanol competes directly with ethanol and its subsidies.

SJC

EP is right, the ag lobby made sure that FFVs were ethanol only. Methanol will come along over time. People don't care that much what fuel, as long as the car runs and it does not break the bank.

Peter_XX

Engineer-Poet
It is obvious that you are Poet; not an Engineer. Do you really think 1 g/mile is good? I am stunned! Modern cars are often certified below 0.01 g/mile, i.e. with some margin to the emission limit and two orders of magnitude lower that the level you mentioned.

Of course it is easy to choose materials that tolerate methanol. But your E85 and E10 cars do have those materials in the fuel system. I KNOW that when M85 was no longer present on the US market, many car manufacturers changed materials in the fuel system to cut cost. Consequently, you have no cars on the road that could run on M85.

SJC
Try to run an E85 car on M85! When the car breaks, it is not fun to walk to the bank.

Of course you can introduce methanol on the US market. But (besides low-level blending) you have to start all over again.

SJC

That is why we need the OFS, to make all new cars sold in the U.S. true FFVs that will run gasoline, ethanol AND methanol. There will be a bill supported by both parties in the U.S. Congress soon. The U.S. automakers have said that they are willing and able to make these cars and that the incremental cost is small, around $200 extra per vehicle.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)