AFPM '19: Methanol producers continue building new plants in N America

Author: Lane Kelley

2019/03/23

HOUSTON (ICIS)--New methanol plants keep rising in North America, as do new plant announcements heading into this year’s International Petrochemical Conference (IPC), showing the continued attraction of a boom that started eight years ago.

Among new start-ups expected soon, US Methanol’s 200,000 tonne/year Liberty One unit in West Virginia and Caribbean Gas Chemical’s 1m tonne/year plant in Trinidad and Tobago should begin operating later this year.

Those new units will follow the opening of the 1.8m tonne/year 50:50 joint venture between OCI Natgasoline and Consolidated Energy Limited (CEL) in Texas, now the largest US methanol plant, which started up in June last year.

The two new North American plants expected to open this year are smaller than the one in Texas. But two Canada-based producers have announced projects that, if built, would be sizable competitors if not larger than Natgasoline.

Vancouver-based Methanex is on the verge of building a third plant in Geismar, Louisiana, US that would be comparable in size to Natgasoline, with the company’s final investment decision (FID)  said to be coming around June this year.

A still larger Canadian project, by Calgary-based Nauticol Energy, would entail a three-stage methanol complex in Alberta that would total 3m tonnes/year capacity when finished.

The new capacity in domestic methanol would be comparable to the build-up in US polymer plants in that it will make America oversupplied in the petrochemical and dependent on exports.

Methanex CEO John Floren has said his company’s proposed third plant in Louisiana would be totally devoted to exports to Asia.

Exports have become the latest trend in domestic methanol. US methanol exports in 2018 represented the highest total ever for foreign shipments and pushed the country closer to becoming a net exporter of the petrochemical.

Exports jumped 59% in 2018 and exceeded imports in five of the last seven months of the year, and are expected to exceed imports on a net basis at some point this year.

The growth stems from new capacity at American plants. US methanol consumption depended largely on imports for years until the domestic plant buildup began in 2011-2012. Imports have shrunk steadily since then, falling 6% in 2018 and amounting to less than half the total imports of 2011.

The following chart shows the steady decline of imports over the past eight years and the corresponding growth of exports.

Source: US International Trade Commission (ITC)

Hosted by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), the IPC takes place on 24-26 March in San Antonio, Texas.

Focus article by Lane Kelley

recasts with clarification that the 1.8m tonne/year 50:50 joint venture between OCI Natgasoline and Consolidated Energy Limited (CEL)