Price and market trends: Lure of methane continues to drive US plant projects

25 January 2013 10:34  [Source: ICB]

The lure of methane continues to hook petrochemical entrepreneurs and investors, as new plant announcements in Texas and Louisiana show.

A Texas firm, G2X Energy, broke ground this week on a small methanol unit in the northern part of the state, and the company also announced more ambitious plans for a methanol-to-gasoline unit in Louisiana.


 Investors are attracted to the US by cheap natural gas sources

Copyright: Jeremy Buckingham

Those are just the latest additions to a long list of plant projects announced over the past year that would use methane as a major feedstock.

Not all of them would make methanol only or turn methanol into something else, such as gasoline. Some of the projects would target the fertilizer market and produce ammonia, which is also a methane derivative.

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has said his state is experiencing a chemical and energy renaissance, but it is not just confined to Louisiana, Texas and the US Gulf states. The lure of methane has also prompted new plant projects in the US midwest.

But the common denominator in all the methane projects is that they seek to capitalise on cheap natural gas from the US shale- gas revolution.

Some of the projects, such as G2X's $60m (€45m) plant in Pampa, Texas, already have ­financing arranged and will serve a fairly defined geographical market.

"That's a good idea," a US methanol source said of the northern Texas project. "I think there's a market for that there in the Oklahoma and north Texas area."

North America has been a magnet for methanol activity over the past two years. Methanex restarted a plant in Canada at Medicine Hat, Alberta, in April 2011, and Orascom Construction Industries (OCI) restarted a Texas plant in Beaumont in July 2012.

Those two plants alone have added 1.2m tonnes/year in new methanol production to the North American market, putting existing capacity at roughly 2m tonnes. That total is likely to double - and maybe triple - in the next three or four years if companies follow through with announced projects.

Three projects are considered likely: LyondellBasell's restart in Texas late this year, Methanex's relocation of a unit in Chile to Louisiana, which is expected to begin this year and start up in 2014, and Celanese's new plant going up at its Clear Lake, Texas, site in 2015.

If just those projects are built, the US would not need to bring in methanol from Trinidad, Venezuela and Africa, which supply roughly 90% of the country's imports.

By: Lane Kelley
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