2007 Methanol Forum discusses changing markets

By Anduin Kirkbride McElroy | November 20, 2007
Methanol industry leaders met in Toronto to discuss the changing market for the volatile liquid in October. In its fifth year, the Methanol Forum, hosted by the Methanol Institute and Jim Jordan & Associates, focused on balance in a changing methanol world. About 140 attendees from Europe, Asia and the Americas discussed issues such as the booming Asian methanol market, methanol production from coal and biomass, and the growing role of methanol as a transportation and power generation fuel.

Greg Dolan, vice president of the Methanol Institute, told Biodiesel Magazine that the methanol industry is seeing a lot of changes. "We're seeing the advent of mega methanol plants (5,000 tons per day) and the impact they're having," he said. "We're also seeing a real shift in the global market." The conference also discussed new and emerging markets for methanol, including biodiesel, an important emerging market for the methanol market, Dolan said. "We're hopeful that a lot of the demand loss from MTBE leaving the U.S. market can be made up in biodiesel production," he said. However, he said there's been some disappointment in methanol demand from biodiesel producers, which he attributed to the large gap between biodiesel production capacity and actual production. The European biodiesel industry has also seen some setbacks due to regulation changes.

Biodiesel producers looking to make more renewable fuel might be interested in new methanol production methods. At the forum, Rich Mount of North Shore Energy Technologies said the same technology currently used to gasify coal into methanol can be used to gasify wood into methanol, as well. Dolan said the technology is projected to yield 165 gallons of "biomethanol" from one ton of wood compared with cellulosic ethanol technologies, which are projected to yield 60 gallons of biomass per ton. There is a lot of interest in commercializing this technology, Dolan said.

The greatest shift in the market happened in China. This year, it became the largest producer and consumer of methanol. Indeed, the country is rapidly building its production capacity, according to a presentation by Mark Berggren, managing director of Methanol Market Services Asia. China produces methanol through coal gasification for several markets, including formaldehyde and acidic acid. Methanol is also an important transportation fuel. This year, China is predicted to use 1 billion gallons of methanol directly blended into gasoline, according to Dolan. Blend levels include M15, M85 and M100. "China's national development and reform commission has determined that coal-based [fuel] should be considered a strategic transportation fuel," Dolan said. "[The country is] now developing national fuel standards that would promote methanol fuel blending." He added that China is developing broader domestic markets for the fuel. Otherwise, it may start exporting coal-based methanol.
 
 
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