Methanol is a common industrial chemical that has been used as an alternative blended liquid transportation fuel and under consideration for wider use. In the USA its application profile in 1998 was MTBE, 36 percent; formaldehyde, 24 percent; acetic acid, 10 percent; solvents, 6 percent; chloromethanes, 4 percent; methyl methacrylate, 3 percent; miscellaneous, including methylamines, glycol methyl ethers, dimethyl terephthalate, antifreeze and fuels, 17 percent. In many countries, notably in Asia, methanol is almost exclusively used to produce the intermediate chemical formaldehyde as input to urea formaldehyde composite wood adhesive.
Methanol is projected to be increasingly used as a fuel, so a comparisons to LNG could be made. Like LNG, methanol is manufactured from natural gas with higher capital costs per unit of energy than LNG but it is cheaper to transport. Compared with LNG and other fuels, it has a lower energy content: equivalent to around 66 per cent of the gas consumed in its production. Its main appeal is therefore as a potential clean-burning fuel suitable for gas turbines, gasoline engines and in new fuel cell technologies. The lower energy content of methanol compared to LNG, can be offset by lower transport costs so at larger distances, methanol is competitive, creating opportunities for its manufacture in gas-rich regions. While world-scale methanol plants typically have production capacities of one million tonnes per year (2 700 metric tons per day), they use only 75 to 90 million cubic feet (80 to 97 terajoules) of natural gas per day. Accordingly, methanol projects are not an alternative to LNG projects to promote gas field development. Indeed, in many gas-rich countries, they are complements to LNG sharing facilities to reduce production costs so that many gas-exporting countries have at least one methanol plant. On a world-wide basis, with low oil prices or environmental requirements for alternative transportation fuels, the methanol market presents a relatively small, specialised market such as for chemicals and fuel cells, rather than the large fuel-oriented market.
See Northern Territory and Western Australia developments.
Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, was established by BHP Petroleum (with ICI Katalco of the UK) at Wyndham 20 km west of Melbourne, Victoria. It is now owned by Coogee Chemicals. Scale is 60 000 tpa using ICI Advanced Gas Heated Reformer technology and claimed to have a variable cost of production comparable to a world scale 800 000 tpa plant.
The plant was commissioned in April 1995 costing $65 million. It supplies about 70 per cent of Australia's requirements. It was a pilot plant aimed at offshore production in NW Australia. The 850 000 tonne project was abandoned by BHP for being unable to secure long term supplies of gas. In 1999, it was sold to Coogee Chemicals.
Coogee Chemicals plans to:
|Participate in off-shore Timor sea production and has already purchased AC/RL3(Montara) gas/condensate gas field in the Ashmore-Carter area of the Timor Sea.|
|Review prospects for a methanol to ethylene glycol plant|
About 80 per cent of methanol in Australia is used for the manufacture of formaldehyde to produce urea and melamine formaldehyde adhesive resins.
Both Orica and Borden has long term contracts to purchase the methanol.
The balance of supply in Australia is by import, mainly from New Zealand.
Around 3000 tpa is required to produce dimethyl ether by CSR Distilleries.
|Note that BHP in 1996 announced it had abandoned plans to manufacture methyl alcohol using NW shelf gas in the north of Western Australia. It was proposed to produce at a scale of around 800 000 tpa.|
|(MTBE is produced from butane as contained in LPG (note Western Australia produces 800 000 tpa of LPG) isomerised and reacted [etherified] with methanol in a plant typically around 600 000 tpa.)|
|See also methanol developments in WA and the NT.|
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