US methanol exports exceed imports fourth month in a row

Source: ICIS News

2019/02/12

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The US may continue to be a net exporter instead of net importer of methanol because of new plants that have started up in the Americas in recent years.

US methanol exports in November exceeded imports for the fourth month in row, keeping the country on track to becoming a net exporter in that petrochemical.

November marked the fifth of the six months beginning in June that methanol shipments out of the US outnumbered incoming cargoes. In the chart below, the red line is exports, blue is imports.

New American methanol plants that have started up in recent years have made the US becoming a net exporter more likely, probably in 2019. The startup of the new 1.8m tonne/year OCI Natgasoline unit in Beaumont, Texas, in June last year tipped the scale toward that outcome.

For decades the US depended largely on imports from Trinidad and Tobago, off the coast of Venezuela, for its methanol supply, until producers began restarting mothballed plants in 2011-2012 to take advantage of cheap American natural gas.

The US will most likely remain a net importer at least for the full year of 2018, with December trade data yet to come.

Venezuela and tiny Trinidad topped the list of US methanol import sources in November, with the two countries accounting for a combined 79% of all US imports, according to the latest data from the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

Total methanol exports surpassed imports by nearly 27% in November, with four countries topping the list of export destinations: South Korea took 58%, and three other countries - the Netherlands, Switzerland and Taiwan -  accounted for 35% of all methanol shipments.

Though methanol flowing between the US and China has become somewhat of a bargaining chip in the trade war between the two countries, neither country sent much to the other in November.

American methanol exports to China in November amounted to barely 100 tonnes, which would be a rounding error in American shipments to South Korea. US methanol imports from China in November totalled roughly 300 tonnes, still a negligible amount.

For the four months beginning in August, the US imported 1,078 tonnes from China – less than 1% of US imports in November.

Major US methanol suppliers include Methanex, Southern Chemical, Celanese-Mitsui, LyondellBasell and OCI.

Focus article by Lane Kelley