HOUSTON (ICIS)--LyondellBasell has restarted a Texas methanol unit, the company said on Thursday.
The producer did not specify when the 780,000 tonne/year plant in Channelview began operating or at what rate, but market sources said it began running in mid-late December after a few weeks of stops and starts.
It marked the second methanol plant restart in the US in less than two years. OCI restarted a Texas unit in July 2012.
Three North American methanol plants owned by LyondellBasell, OCI and Methanex have a total combined capacity of 2m tonnes/year.
Plant projects in Louisiana and Texas would more than triple that number if completed within the next 3-4 years and eliminate the need for US imports if just the most likely projects are built. OCI announced in late November that it plans to build what would be the largest US methanol plant, at 1.75m tonnes, near its existing facility in Beaumont, Texas.
US methanol imports in 2012 totalled 5.13m tonnes, according to the US International Trade Commission.
The boom in US and North American methanol projects stems from producers seeking to cash in on low-cost natural gas from shale formations.
LyondellBasell’s Channelview unit had been mothballed since 2004 because of what was then the high cost of natural gas, which is the key feedstock for making methanol.
Restarting old methanol plants is a lot cheaper than building new ones. LyondellBasell has said the Texas plant would cost around $150m (€110m) to restart.
Celanese has estimated the cost of a new 1.3m tonne/year plant the company plans to build in a joint venture with Mitsui at its Clear Lake acetyls complex near Houston will cost $800m.
The methanol restart in Channelview is LyondellBasell’s first in a series of planned projects in Texas, according to a company statement.
Other LyondellBasell projects include expansions of ethylene capacity at La Porte, Channelview and Corpus Christi that will add 1.8bn lb (816,000 tonnes) to the company's annual capacity, plus expansion of a polyethylene unit in Matagorda County, Texas.
US methanol spot barge prices stayed pretty stable over the New Year and Christmas holiday period, edging up to 160-162 cents/gal because of harsh winter weather in the northeast, sources said. On 20 December, the spot range was 160-161 cents/gal.($1 = €0.73)