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Methanol and Bio-Economy: Now and the Future

Submitted by on August 25, 2017 – 11:54 amNo Comment

by Lorenz Bauer (Lee Enterprises Consulting/Biofuels Digest) … Methanol and bioeconomies are two of the buzz words of the last decade. They had their origin in the “peak oil” scare and the predicted sky rocketing oil prices. They were further boosted by environmental concerns about pollution and climate change.   Both economies are continuing to grow; however, methanol has taken off much faster due to the strategic interests of international players like China, India, Israel, and other countries desiring to decrease oil imports. Near term economic drivers continue to dominate over longer term environmental and societal goals. This note discusses the potential synergy between bio and methanol economies in terms of technical, economic and regulatory factors. Recent advances in methanol production process and catalyst development are highlighted along with the status of biomethanol commercialization efforts. The continued growth of the methanol economies provides significant opportunities for investment in novel production methods.

Biomethanol is interchangeable with standard methanol and can benefit from this infrastructure. Biomethanol clearly meets the standards for an advanced biofuel and in many cases a cellulosic biofuel. However, it’s costs relative to standard methanol has limited production. The interest in reducing global continues to motivate further research into biomass conversion. The scale of these biomass conversion process provides the opportunity to apply novel approaches in lower risk applications that benefit both technologies.

Obtaining funding for biomethanol plants is more difficult.   Methanol production from natural gas suppresses the bio economy by providing a practical lower cost alternative to petroleum derived fuel.

Distributed methanol production can make sense for waste to energy and agricultural applications. The development of a robust methanol economy would provide outlets for materials that could be used locally and provide materials to make shortfalls. Technology being developed for smaller scale methanol production from natural gas can be adapted to biogas.

Methanol fuel cells have advantages over hydrogen fuel cells in feed handling and can operate at lower temperatures than solid oxide fuel cells. Continued development is expected in this area. These fuel cells are likely to be suited to smaller scale applications. The increased efficiency of the power production may offset some of the higher methanol production costs.

There is support among the regulatory community in the EU, Canada, and U.S. for biomethanol production greenhouse gas reduction.   The Environmental Protection Agency approval for the fuel’s inclusion under the Renewable Fuel Standard. The EU recognized biomethanol as an advanced biofuel and supporting its use.   Methanol is becoming a fuel of choice in the maritime industry faced with strict low sulfur emissions. The addition of biomethanol would aid the industry in meeting carbon reduction standards.   READ MORE

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