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

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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.

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

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Comments

Peter_XX

You should also work on some incentives to promote cars that utilize the unique properties of alcohols to increase efficiency. Today, this potential is practically not used at all, i.e. FFVs increase efficiency by only a few per cent when running on E85 compared to gasoline. We know from research that there is a great potential for improvement. Sweden has a CO2 limit that gives a tax incentive for gasoline and diesel cars but the corresponding limit for alternatively fuelled cars is much higher. Consequently, the average FFV has higher energy use per km than the average gasoline car. This development is not desired; it should be the opposite.

SJC

Sweden is not the U.S. and what is acceptable there may not be here. E85/M85 in an OFS FFV that does not cost much more could be more acceptable to the U.S. consumer.

They mostly look at the cost per mile for fuel and range. If they can still get 300 mile range, the fuel costs less than $4 per gallon and they can get 20 mpg, then they might accept it.

Engineer-Poet
It is obvious that you are Poet; not an Engineer.
Oh ho ho! This from the one who said above "Cars that are not fuel-flexible should tolerate a few per cent methanol." That's all they need to tolerate.

The ethanol "blend wall" is irrelevant. The mandatory quantity of ethanol blending can be cut by fiat, which would reduce both fuel and food costs almost overnight (starting with eggs). Alaskan methanol at $.65/gallon has a strong market-price advantage and would be blended even without mandates or incentives.

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.
Then you know which manufacturers changed, and probably what materials they changed to. Share this with us.
Consequently, you have no cars on the road that could run on M85.
But that's not the issue. The issue is whether E85 cars could run on M50 or M20, and E10 cars could run on M5. Materials compatibility is sensitive to concentration, so this isn't just a minor quibble--which you'd know if you were an engineer.

Certainly, we can get better thermal efficiency with engines designed for specific methanol fuels. I'm all for this. But that doesn't mean we have to wait on them to get methanol into the fuel stream and displace imported oil.

Peter_XX

Poet
You should definitely be a Poet! When you referred to that NOx is not “much of an issue” at a level of 1 g/mile, it just made me laugh. The more you write, the more obvious it becomes that you represent a genuine lack of understanding in most areas, except argumentation (which you could expect from a poet). For example, current E85 cars cannot use M50, period. As an engineer, I know that there is a methanol concentration where the material issue is most prominent; this is not pure gasoline, not pure M85 (or pure methanol) but a concentration in between. If you run an FFV on gasoline, E85 and M85 from time to time, you will experience the “most severe” concentration from time to time. The associated risk of failure is totally unacceptable for in-use vehicles. Car manufacturers will not accept associated warranty issues if you run the car on a fuel it was not designed for. You are on your own! Good luck!

As many times in the past, I find that further discussion with you is totally pointless. Therefore, I also ask you not to comment on my contribution in the future.

Engineer-Poet

Transient high-emissions conditions aren't necessarily a big pollution problem. Engines used to operate well rich of stoichiometric under WOT conditions (because the EPA tests didn't reach them, so the auto makers could cut corners at the limit and still pass), yet the air cleaned up remarkably well anyway; most operation wasn't so severe.

current E85 cars cannot use M50, period.
I asked you which manufacturers changed materials, and what they changed them to. Why are you re-asserting your claim without the evidence you were asked to provide? Are you trying to hide something?

SJC

There is not a huge difference between E85 and M85 FFVs. This is one of the reasons the U.S. auto makers say that they can offer OFS FFVs with very low additional cost within a few years.

Methanol is more corrosive and the oxygen sensors and computer has to be tuned to accept the fuel, but it is not a major change from what they make now. Saying putting M85 into a present E85 FFV would ruin it is missing the point.

If all new vehicles sold in the U.S. were OFS FFVs it will not matter. 10 million cars per year more would be able to run M85 with almost NO additional cost. After the second year there would be 20 million on the road and so on. Having MORE options and not LESS is a good idea.

Peter_XX

Poet
Hey, come on… You made a stupid mistake. Don’t make it any worse by continuing this argumentation. EPA would never allow a fuel composition that causes cars to fail meeting the emission limits! We are not talking ULEV, SULEV or something like that but the NOx emission limit of 1978. Furthermore, with lean operation at WOT; the catalyst will be permanently damaged in a very short time. Thus, also any other emission component but NOx will become unregulated. I am lacking your comments on that fact?

Do you really think I would give a name to you? Would I give a savage person as you the pleasure to give someone I know nasty phone calls? Certainly not! Why don´t you try to prove that I am wrong instead.

Instead of commenting the debate any further, I will provide you with a solution; although I am not very fond of it. You could make a “tertiary” fuel composition comprising gasoline, methanol and ethanol. These components can be blended in a ratio that gives exactly the same heating value as E85. The most extreme would be no ethanol at all but higher gasoline content to compensate the lower energy content of methanol. You will not be able to substitute as much gasoline as with E85 but since you are distributing very little E85 anyway, this could be overcome by increasing the number of refueling stations. With the same heating value as E85, this fuel would behave similarly to E85, so emission control would work as intended. Well, what is the catch then? Again, we have the problem that the fuel system in many E85 cars will not tolerate methanol (although in lower concentration than 85%). What you could do is to “force” the car manufacturers to give out lists as to which car models could tolerate methanol and which cars would not (EU has recently done that with E10, since a lot of cars do not tolerate higher blends than E5). Those cars that actually do tolerate methanol (I think there are such cars in your fleet) could use the tertiary fuel composition. It would have to be clearly marked at the refueling stations, for example ME85, but preferably a denotation that is not so easily confused with E85. There is a considerable risk that people with E85 cars that cannot tolerate methanol would refuel. Thus, as an engineer, I do not like the idea of introducing this risk to the customer.

Albeit from the impractical option discussed above, the only realistic – and practical – solution is to use methanol in low-blending (up to 3%) until this limit is exhausted. This will take many years. Several methanol plants could be erected during that period. In the meantime, new FFVs could be adapted to accept also methanol, either as the tertiary composition I proposed or as E85/M85 as, for example, the first generation of Ford Taurus FFV that could run on both E85 and M85.

Birgitt Van Wijk

Dear SJC,

Great idea, FFV's were available as early as '91/'92. In fact I drove one for almost 15 years, a Ford Taurus. I worked for years on this But it means change for the consumer whereas MTG, what we branded as RNG (Reformulated Natural Gas), means NO change for the consumer. He/she gets a clean gasoline, NO sulfur, minimum 92 octane at the pump around the corner based on American natural gas, American jobs, in the USA, including Alaska. And reduction of the Deficit at a price way below gasoline based on crude.
you might think a politician might jump on this but so far nobody has. Maybe because we are Swiss based but who cares where the idea comes from. It still can save the USA maybe 1,5 BILLION DOLLARS a day. You figure it out.

Deo van Wijk,

Chairman of Janus Methanol AG

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