Texas methanol start-up marks beginning of new era in US

Source: ICIS News

2018/06/25

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The commercial start-up of the OCI Natgasoline plant this week marks the beginning of a new era in the US methanol industry.

Natgasoline is a greenfield 1.75m tonne/year methanol plant in Beaumont, Texas. OCI and its partner, Consolidated Energy Limited (CEL)/G2X, each own 50% stakes. (Photo from OCI)

Natgasoline’s 1.8m tonne/year capacity puts the US on course to satisfying its own demand without imports and becoming a net exporter of methanol, according to ICIS Consulting.

“The US has been a net importer of methanol since before the 1990s,” said James Ray, senior consultant at ICIS.

“That will change in 2019, when the US becomes a net exporter of low cost methanol. This historical shift has come as a result of the abundant associated natural gas feedstock from horizontal drilling. With the recent business friendly US tax structure, this trend is expected to continue as petrochemical projects that were previously on the bubble are now a 'go'.”

In the chart below, the short orange column pointing up in 2019 signifies the US becoming a net exporter of methanol.

Source: ICIS Consulting

For years, the US depended largely on imports from tiny Trinidad and Tobago for its methanol supply, until producers began restarting mothballed plants in 2011-2012.

A few years later US methanol capacity was just short of 2.5m tonnes/year in early 2015. By the end of that year, American capacity had grown to 6m tonnes/year.

OCI’s press release issued on Monday showed how size matters in the new era.

The company called the commercial start-up of the plant in Beaumont the largest in the US, surpassing the previous largest US methanol plant, the 1.3m tonne/year Celanese-Mitsui unit in Clear Lake, Texas.

The OCI release said its new unit would be “the only new capacity expected in the Americas to come online in 2018”.

The latter reference points to new tonnage that might come up in 2019, when Yuhuang Chemical’s new 1.8m tonne/year unit in Louisiana is scheduled to start up late in the year at St James parish, Louisiana.

Yuhuang has said that most of the methanol from the new unit will be used in the US, and the rest for export to Europe and China. Methanol watchers, though, said the capacity will by necessity be headed to Asia.

Growing US exports this year already show Asian countries to be top destinations.

Exports to South Korea have doubled so far this year, according to the most recent trade data, and shipments to China through April were 18 times  greater than in the same period last year.

Focus article by Lane Kelley