Currently, most methanol is produced by the catalytic conversion of syngas (a mix of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen) from fossil sources. Information on methanol use is available from the International Methanol Producers and Consumers Association IMPCA and from the Methanol Institute.
Biomethanol can be produced from a wide range of biomass feedstocks via a thermochemical route similar to the Fisher-Tropsch process for BtL. It can be blended in petrol at 10-20%. In China, M10 and M85 are already used in thousands of vehicles. Methanol has also been investigated for use as a fuel in shipping.
BIOMCN commercial production of biomethanol
BioMCN, Netherlands, is the first company in the world to produce, market and sell industrial quantities of biomethanol, using glycerin as a feedstock. BioMCN continus to develop innovative processes for the production of biomethanol using various feedstock, including crude glycerine, green gas, biomass and CO2.
Enerkem MSW to Methanol plant (coupled with conversion to ethanol)
In June 2014, Enerkem inaugurated its commercial-scale MSW to methanol plant in Edmonton, Canada. The facility converts MSW to syngas, which is converted to methanol. In 2015 a methanol-to-ethanol conversion unit will be added.
The City of Edmonton will supply 100,000 dry metric tons of sorted MSW per year. The sorted MSW to be used is the ultimate residue after recycling and composting, which is saved from being landfilled. The commissioning of the facility has begun. Operations will start in 2014 with the production of biomethanol. A methanol-to-ethanol conversion module will be added after.
Enerkem’s project partners, namely the City of Edmonton and Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions, contributed $20 million to the project. The project has been selected by Alberta Energy to receive $3.35 million in funding, as part of the Biorefining Commercialization and Market Development Program. In addition, Waste Management and EB Investments have invested equity in the project with Enerkem Inc. This facility is part of a comprehensive municipal waste-to-biofuels initiative in partnership with the City of Edmonton and Alberta Innovate.
MTO/OCP Methanol to Olefins / Olefin-Cracking-Process demonstration plant
An industrial-scale demonstration plant funded by Total in Feluy, Belgium, used the Methanol-to-Olefins (MTO) process developed by UOP/Hydro and the Olefin Cracking Process (OCP) developed jointly by Total and UOP, followed by downstream polymerization to produce polymers. Olefins can also potentially be used as building blocks for advanced biofuels.
On 18 December 2012 it was announced that the Woodspirit project, Netherlands, has been selected to receive counterpart funding of €199m under the first call for proposals of the NER300 funding programme for innovative low-carbon technologies. The Project will demonstrate the production of bio-methanol in large commercial scale using biomass torrefaction and entrained flow gasification as the new core technologies. The output of the Project is 516 Ml/y bio-methanol, which is equivalent to 413000 t/y. The plant will be located in the Netherlands next to the existing plant of the Project sponsor in Oosterholm, Farmsum. The Project will make use of 1.5 Mt/y of imported wood chips. The bio- methanol will be used as a petrol additive for partial replacement of mineral fuel. The main components of the new complex include a fuel receiving and processing facility, gasification island to produce raw syngas, the syngas cleaning area and the methanol plant including bio-methanol synthesis and purification plants.[Source: SWD(2012) 224 final: NER300 - Moving towards a low carbon economy and boosting innovation, growth and employment across the EU]
VärmlandsMethanol AB is in the process of building a biomass-to-methanol plant in Hagfors, Sweden. VärmlandsMetanol will gasify biomass (forest residue) and then convert and purify the syngas into fuel grade methanol. The plant will produce 300 t/day fuel grade methanol and also deliver district heating water with a thermal duty of 15 MW.
SUPER METHANOL Project
The SUPER METHANOL project on Reforming of Crude Glycerine in Supercritical Water to produce Methanol for Re-Use in Biodiesel Plants (FP7-212180) aims to produce methanol from crude glycerine, and re-use the methanol in the biodiesel plant. This will improve the energy balance, carbon performance, sustainability and overall economics of biodiesel production. The work expands on expertise generated by the consortium on reforming of glycerine in supercritical water, and to produce a synthesis gas suitable for direct once-through methanol synthesis (GtM - Glycerine to Methanol). Producers will be less dependent on the methanol spot price, there is a (partial) security of methanol supply, and their by-product is used as a green, sustainable feedstock
METHAPU project - use of Methanol as a shipping fuel
The FP6 METHAPU project (Validation of renewable methanol based auxiliary power systems for commercial vessels) investigated the use of Methanol and solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology for shipping.
Global R&D on methanol
GEM Gasoline Ethanol Methanol blends
Research has previously been carried out on 'dual-alcohol' gasoline blends (e.g. 10% ethanol plus 10% methanol), which has a distillation curve close to that of pure gasoline, minimizing the impact on fuel volatility [Source: Distillation Curves for Alcohol-Gasoline Blends, V. F. Andersen et al, Energy Fuels, 2010, 24 (4), pp 2683–2691].
Maverick Synfuels modular system for syngas-to-methanol
In the United States, Maverick Synfuels has developed a modular system to produce methanol from syngas and then convert it to olefins, and in turn biofuels or other bioproducts. In March 2014, Maverick annnounced a partnership with Plant Process Equipment Inc., to manufacture and sell small-scale plants to convert waste gas to methanol at low-cost. In September 2014, the modular system became commercially available.
Methanol as a renewable fuel – a knowledge synthesisIngvar Landälv, Bio4Energy (Luleå University of Technology)
Methanol use in various applications is on the raise globally and there are several examples on how methanol is used in the transport sector today. The production is comparably efficient and cost effective and there are also several examples of where methanol as fuel is under advanced testing in various, sometimes novel, types of engines.
From the historical background can be discerned a lack of long term perspective with respect to (a) earlier and current motivation to “use/not to use” methanol as an alternative fuel, (b) experiences gained from earlier periods of methanol usage, and (c) why interest to use methanol as an automotive fuel has shifted through the past decades. A newly finished f3 project by Ingvar Landälv, Bio4Energy/LTU, has had the objective of creating a knowledge synthesis with this long term perspective in mind, and also to look forward and address methanol’s potential role as energy carrier/motor fuel in Sweden (and elsewhere).