The promise: No need for multibillion dollar LNG compression Trains, special-built, expensive LNG tankers and hard-to-permit LNG regasification facilities.

There is considerable industry interest in converting gas in liquid methanol to power both vehicles and for electricity generation.

Methanol is an inherently safe fuel and can be handled conventionally at the user's site without the substantial capital investment in special purpose tankers or unloading facilities required by other fuel systems. Methanol is a clean burning fuel, containing no sulphur or nitrogenous materials. It produces power with very low emissions compared to those of a natural gas-fired, combined-cycle unit. Methanol makes an excellent alternative fuel for gas fired power plants.

Transportation fuels, such as gasoline and diesel, are the focus of intense R_D efforts by energy companies as the new Clean Air Act regulations are put into place, and as new engine configurations and operating conditions become commonplace. Also, the advent of fuel cell powered vehicles means new emphasis on markets for methanol.

Methanol can also be used as a feedstock for more sophisticated processes in the petrochemical industry.

Methanol may also come to be used in fuel cell cars, although these are not commercially viable at present.

New conversion technology promises to lower the cost of converting natural gas to methanol on the high seas via specially designed FPSO's.

Starchem's "Oxygen enriched air system"  is a new technology intended to produce methanol at a drastically reduced cost so that it can be used for power-generation purposes. The methanol is to be sold to power-generation companies that can use it without any substantial modification to their existing plants.

According to StarChem, this breakthrough technology can reduce methanol production costs by as much as $50/t.

The raw material for the methanol is natural gas. Based on reforming of natural gas, the process uses air, which is extracted from a gas turbine and enriched in membranes. Air is drawn into the suction of a gas turbine and a significant fraction of it is extracted from the gas turbine compressor through a booster compressor and into air enrichment membranes. The balance of the air is fed to the gas turbine combustor or is used for internal component cooling. The membranes, which work on the principle that oxygen diffuses faster across the membrane than nitrogen, produce enriched air. The major part of the nitrogen and some residual oxygen remains in the main gas stream as depleted air. Depleted air is heated against compressor discharge air and returns to the gas turbine as secondary air to the combustor, forming a significant part of the mass flow through the turbine. Enriched air is compressed, heated and fed to the catalytic partial oxidation section. Natural gas is heated, desulphurised, mixed with steam, heated further and fed to the catalytic partial oxidation reactor. Synthesis gas is cooled, recovering useful heat in various ways, and is then compressed to a suitable pressure for methanol synthesis. Methanol is synthesized in a cascade of reactors.

The crude methanol passes to a methanol distillation section, where it is stabilized and reduced to an economic water content for transport. Purge gas from the methanol synthesis cascade is treated to recover hydrogen for recycling with the tail gas passing to the gas turbine as fuel. This eliminates the need for the air separation unit normally required to supply oxygen for the process. An additional innovation is the use of a series of reactors, arranged in a cascade, in lieu of the conventional methanol synthesis loop.

FPSO: The floating methanol production plant concept for on site resource extraction and liquefaction is seemingly ideal for the arctic. It eliminates any on shore investments and liquid methanol can be transported in ordinary (ice strengthened) tankers.

The principal challenge of developing a cost-efficient methanol plant that would fit on a vessel was accomplished by Starchem Technologies, Foster Wheeler Power Systems and Waller Marine.

The world's first floating methanol plant is being jointly developed by PetroWorld Limited (a 50-50 joint venture between Petro SA, the Petroleum Oil and Gas Corporation of South Africa Ltd., and Transworld Exploration Ltd., part of the Transworld Group of Companies), Perryville, New Jersey-based Foster Wheeler Power Systems Inc., Houston-based Starchem Technologies International Ltd. and Waller Marine Inc.

A primary market for the West Africa project is certain gas turbine power plants in the U.S., where methanol would be an advantageous alternative fuel. 

Reportedly, the first $700 million plant will be deployed off Africa's west coast about three years from the date that project details and financing are finalized.


The development of these new methanol processes could have considerable positive impact on the economics of Arctic Gas resources developments.

The Arctic resources are coming to the fore as significant large secure energy resource plays with ready access to all of the main Europe, North American and Asian markets, at a time when geopolitical instability in Nigeria, the Middle East, Russia and South America are threatening the world's supply of oil and natural gas.

Major companies are commercializing the new technology. On June 7th Oryx GTL Ltd. inaugurated the $950 million Oryx gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant at Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar. The plant will convert 330 MMcfd of lean gas from Qatar's vast North gas field into 34,000 b/d of ultralow-sulfur diesel, 24,000 b/d of diesel, 9,000 b/d of naphtha, and 1,000 b/d of LPG. The Oryx GTL plant is the first to convert gas to liquid fuel on a commercial scale, said the plant's designer, Foster Wheeler Ltd. of the UK. The plant uses the proprietary, low-temperature Sasol slurry phase distillate process based on Fischer-Tropsch technology. Two other GTL plants are planned to start up in Qatar, the Pearl GTL project in 2010 and a Qatar Petroleum-ExxonMobil Corp. project in 2011.




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