Friday, March 9, 2012

With Current Natural Gas Prices The Methanol Economy is Coming

The easiest way to make methanol uses natural gas (specifically the methane) as the feedstock. Links below.
From The Economist's Babbage blog:

Meet the meth drinkers
WITH the average price of petrol in America once again threatening the politically sensitive level of $4 a gallon as tensions mount over Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, your correspondent has been puzzled by the deafening silence with which the current spike in pump prices has been greeted. Usually, when oil crosses the $100-a-barrel threshold and petrol prices soar, demands for drastic action fill the headlines. Given that this is election year, presidential candidates might have been expected to exploit the situation. There have been few such murmurings.

For sure, there have been the usual calls for the White House to dip into the country’s strategic oil reserves to slow rising prices at the pump—as happened last summer when more than 30m barrels were released to meet shortages caused by the Libyan uprising. The strategic reserve’s storage caverns in Texas and Louisiana are currently filled to the brim. So, do not be surprised if the administration releases some of the 700m barrels in storage should petrol prices remain stubbornly high during the summer months when people take to the roads for vacation and President Obama campaigns warily for re-election.

But America’s normally vociferous corn growers and ethanol producers have remained remarkably muted. At the least, one would have expected them to be clamoring for their precious E85 brew (85% ethanol and 15% petrol) to be re-instated in the government’s package of tax credits for alternative motor fuels. Since the expiration in January of their $6 billion-a-year subsidy, ethanol blenders have lost their 38 cents-a-gallon credit on E85, causing its price to rise to an average of $3.20 (compared with petrol’s $3.79). In California, where refineries have to use the highest grade of oil to meet the state’s stringent environmental standards, the average price of a gallon of regular petrol is currently $4.36....MORE
...The usual way of making methanol is first to react methane, the main component of natural gas, with high-temperature steam in the presence of a nickel catalyst, to produce a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide known as “syngas”. A second catalyst—usually a blend of copper, zinc oxide and alumina—is then used to turn the syngas into methanol.

Because the process involves stripping off one of the methane molecule’s four hydrogen atoms that are tightly bonded to a central carbon atom, the process requires a good deal of energy. Even so, methanol has long been made commercially this way—without any taxpayer subsidies—for around a dollar a gallon. It can be bought on the spot market today for $1.13 a gallon. Modern catalysts, which eliminate the intermediate syngas stage, promise to make methanol even cheaper....
In "Possibly Major Materials Science Breakthrough: '"Carbon Dioxide Super Scrubber?"' I used my usual approach to writing, assuming the reader is smarter than I am, and let them figure it out by asking "Why is a Nobel Laureate (Chemistry) fooling around with this stuff?"

After posting I realized that the focus of the piece from Nature was too much on the CO2, too little on the Methanol.
So in "Natural Gas: Buy the Chemical Companies that Use the Stuff (HUN; MEOH)" I decided to be a bit less circumspect:
Hey, if they use natgas as a feedstock and the price of the feedstock is cut in half...
And that's as close to hitting folks over the head as I get.