OUTLOOK '19: Two new methanol units starting in the Americas

Source: ICIS News

2019/01/08

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Two new methanol plants are scheduled to start up in 2019 in the Americas, one in the US and the other in Trinidad and Tobago.

The largest methanol project, Caribbean Gas Chemical’s 1m tonne/year plant in Trinidad and Tobago, could start up as early as mid-2019.

Whether the new project will avoid Trinidad’s long-standing natural gas supply problems that have plagued petrochemical producers, it is unknown, though the owners of the project see a distinct advantage.

Mitsubishi is a major player in the Trinidad plant at La Brea, which is 470 miles from Jose, Venezuela, where the Japanese giant operates two Metor methanol plants.

Aside from Venezuela’s current economic catastrophe in progress, another disadvantage to having plants in the South American country (according to a source close to the project) is that methanol shipped from there to the US is not duty-free.

Methanol from Trinidad comes into the US duty-free while shipments from Venezuela are hit with a 5.5% import tax.

Small wonder, then, that Trinidad usually provides a much larger share of US imports than Venezuela. In 2017, Trinidad accounted for 49% of all US imports and Venezuela 23%, according to trade data. In October, Trinidad accounted for 57% of US imports and Venezuela 19%.

Source: US International Trade Commission

Yet the US is not really the main target destination of the new Trinidad plant. A big target is Japan, which depends entirely on imports for its methanol. The source close to the project said some portion of the Trinidad plant’s methanol would of course be shipped to Asia, “but it will do for the US and EU as well”.

Another new methanol project expected to start up next year is US Methanol’s 200,000 tonne/year Liberty One unit at Charleston, West Virginia, which the company says should operate in late 2019 because of a year-long delay related to a compressor malfunction.

The company is pitching the plant’s product as “made-in-the-USA methanol,” though a small irony of the project is that the plant itself comes from Brazil and the company is owned by European oil and gas investors.

Like Methanex, US Methanol is shipping a foreign plant to the US, and also like Methanex the original site is in South America. US Methanol shipped Liberty One from Rio de Janeiro.

Methanex’s two plants in Louisiana that started up in 2015 were shipped from the company’s complex in Punta Arenas, Chile.

Methanex could also have some new-plant news in 2019, with a final investment decision on its proposed third plant in Geismar, Louisiana expected by mid-year. Methanex has acquired land for a third methanol plant in Geismar, next to its two existing 1m tonne/year methanol plants.

The proposed new Methanex plant would be a new-build unit with a capacity of 1.8m tonnnes/year, the same size as the new OCI Natgasoline plant in Texas.

Focus article by Lane Kelley

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