Engineering News

Mitsui Targets Methanol Output from CO2
May 13, 2010

Mitsui Chemicals Inc. has developed a way of making methanol from carbon dioxide and hydrogen--both greenhouse gases--and is in talks with foreign partners about possible projects, a senior executive said.

Yoshiyuki Funakoshi, Mitsui Chemicals' senior managing director, said discussions over projects were ongoing with China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (SNP), known as Sinopec Corp., the Singaporean government and others.

As an energy source that makes use of Asia's vast reserves of coal, methanol has the potential provide a low-emissions alternative to traditional vehicle fuels.

It is highly versatile and can be used in a range of industries beyond transport, especially when converted to formaldehyde to produce resins, plastics, plywood adhesives, paints, explosives and permanent press textiles.

Funakoshi said his company's technology was also a potential silver bullet for global warming as it uses greenhouse gases "rather than just storing them underground."

The technology involves the collection of carbon dioxide emissions, which are then mixed with hydrogen and applied to a catalyst for methanol production.

Funakoshi said the biggest challenge was bringing the costs of the technology down.

Output at a pilot plant in Mitsui Chemicals' Osaka factory costs at least twice as much as the production of methanol using natural gas in countries with abundant gas reserves, he said.

However, Funakoshi said the market was likely to move in favor of the technology.

"Methane prices will likely rise in the long term as emerging economies grow, and hydrogen prices are very different from location to location. It will also depend on carbon credit prices," he said.

A plant adjacent to a thermal power station, steel mill or oil refineries would be suitable because these facilities produce large amounts of hydrogen and CO2, he said.

He declined to give details about talks with Sinopec and the Singapore government, but said some 20 gas-producing nations have contacted Mitsui Chemicals about the technology as they would prefer to export gas rather than use it domestically to make methanol.

Sinopec declined to comment, and Singapore's Energy Market Authority said it was unaware of any such talks.

The pilot plant in Osaka has an annual capacity of 100 metric tons and uses CO2 emitted in an adjacent petrochemical factory.

So far, it has been running for about 2,000 hours and Mitsui Chemicals aims to run it for 8,000 hours, or about a year, to verify the reliability of the catalyst.

Kazuhiro Kumakubo, an analyst with Mizuho Information and Research Institute, said the cost of carbon credits would play a critical role in whether the technology will ultimately be able to compete on costs.

This is a significant hurdle, as talks over a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on tackling climate change have so far been inconclusive.

Source: Dow Jones Newswires

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