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New Methanol Technologies

Offer Alternatives to Dirty Fuels

by Michael Karl Strtling
Lurgi OelGasChemie GmbH, Germany

ower generation in many locations still relies on

the burning of relatively expensive liquid hydrocarbons such as naphtha and diesel. The trend to
replace these with clean natural gas has been limited by
the cost of gas pipelines and liquefied petroleum gas
(LPG) supply chains. But new methanol conversion
technologies are offering an alternative that is cleaner
and more cost-competitive.
These technologies include oxygen-blown natural
gas reforming, Lurgi MegaMethanol synthesis, and
methanol conversion to dimethyl-ether (DME), the
first derivative of methanol. Using low-cost gas



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at US$0.5/MMBtu the Lurgi MegaMethanol technology will reduce the methanol production cost to
US$65/t and the DME production cost to US$93/t.
Developments are underway to decrease these costs
an additional 20 percent or more through even bigger
single-train plants.
Methanol and DME available at low cost are attractive
feedstocks for power production. They are sulfur free
and easy to transport and handle. Gas turbines as well as
internal combustion engines are proven to run on both
these fuels. GT efficiencies increase up to 10 percent
with methanol as fuel.

Why Change?
Why is an engineering company investing a big portion
of its considerable R&D budget in such development?
There are three main reasons:
1) plentiful gas supply sources, available for about
130 years;
2) environmental aspects and regulations; and
3) "monetising" the abundant natural gas reserves
in remote areas as well as associated gas, which
normally is flared without benefit.
The driving forces behind such change are the economic
and environmental benefits from the use of natural gas,
and both forces will support continuous innovation regarding gas-based technologies. We believe the introduction of our Lurgi MegaMethanol process for plants with
a production of 5,000 tons of methanol per day and more
will result in methanol available at a constant low price
in the foreseeable future. At this price, methanol becomes
attractive as an alternative clean fuel for power generation.
Dimethyl-ether (DME), the first derivative of
methanol, also has a high potential as an alternative to
conventional diesel fuel and as a feedgas for gas turbines
in power generation. Both products are virtually sulfur
free and burn without soot or particulate formation.
This "indirect" use of natural gas is economically viable
where logistics and infrastructure do not support the high
investment required for a gas pipeline grid or LNG supply
chain. Smaller power plants utilizing expensive naphtha
or diesel are prime candidates for conversion to clean,
low-cost methanol or DME.
Natural Gas: A Key Feedstock and Fuel
for the 21st Century
Total proven gas reserves worldwide amount to approximately 140 trillion cubic meters1, which translates into
a gas reserve-to-production ratio (that is, a gas reserve
lifetime) of 61 years. Furthermore, estimated
additional gas reserves will cover a lifetime
of 65 years more. Compared with the
reserve lifetime of 41 years for petroleum
E. Europe
and 230 years for coal, there is no doubt
that natural gas will be a key fuel component
in the 21st century2.
However, currently, a considerable portion
of this reserve is wasted yearly (see Figure 1).
Considering all factors, its not hard to understand the incentives for both engineers and
environmentalists to come up with novel
ideas for the utilization of this gas.

Lurgis MegaMethanol Technology:

A Basis for Clean, Low-Cost Fuels
The MegaMethanol process is appropriate for plants
with a capacity of more than 1 million metric tons per
year. To achieve such a large capacity in a single-train
plant, a special process design is required. For this reason,
Lurgi focused on the most efficient integration of syngas
generation and methanol synthesis, and came up with
an economical and reliable technology for the new
generation of future methanol plants3 (see Figure 2).
Autothermal Reforming.
Pure autothermal reforming can be applied for syngas
production whenever light natural gases are used as
feedstock to the process. The desulfurized (and optionally
pre-reformed) feedstock is reformed to synthesis gas
at about 40 bar using oxygen as the reforming agent.
Even when using pure methane as feedstock to the
autothermal reforming, it is necessary to ensure that the
synthesis gas, as the stoichiometric number, defined as
(H2 CO2) / (CO + CO2) on a mole basis, is below
2.0. The most economic way to achieve the required
gas composition is a special operation mode of the
methanol synthesis with a very high CO conversion and
a suppressed CO2 conversion. The optimum composition
is achieved by recycling hydrogen that can be separated
from the purge stream downstream of the methanol
synthesis by a membrane unit or pressure swing adsorption
(PSA) unit.
Combined Converter Methanol Synthesis.
In this innovative concept, the compressed syngas is first
used as a cooling agent on the tube side of the gas-cooled
reactor (Figure 2). In the downstream water-cooled
methanol reactor, the preheated gas is converted under
near-isothermal conditions while the heat of reaction is



Far East
& Oceania

Source:Energy Information Administration (EIA):"International

Natural Gas Information" 14 Feb 2001,http://www.eia.doe.gov

Figure 1: Flared Natural Gas (1998)


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Figure 2: Simplified Diagram of Lurgi's MegaMethanol Technology

utilized for the production of saturated steam. The partly

converted gas is then routed to the shell side of the gascooled reactor, where it is converted to methanol in the
catalyst bed. Due to the combination of heat exchange
(to preheat the syngas) and reaction, a declining and
therefore thermodynamically favorable temperature
profile across the catalyst bed is established in the
gas-cooled reactor, thus leading to very high per-pass
conversion. The product gas is then cooled, and crude
methanol is condensed, separated and sent to the distillation unit. The gaseous stream is recycled to the reactor
loop after separation of a purge gas stream. This, in turn,
is routed to the purge gas separation unit where H2 is
separated and returned to the syngas, and from there to
the synthesis loop to adjust the proper stoichiometric

Figure 3: DME Production by Methanol Dehydration



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The most important advantages of the water- and

gas-cooled reactor concept are as follows:
High syngas conversion efficiency. At the same
overall conversion, the recycle ratio is about half of
the ratio in a single-stage, water-cooled reactor.
High energy efficiency. In addition to the highpressure steam generated in the water-cooled
reactor, a substantial part of the sensible heat can
be recovered at the gas-cooled reactor outlet.
Low investment costs. Capital cost savings of about
40 percent for the synthesis loop can be realized
due to the omission of a large feedstock preheater,
savings for other equipment due to the lower recycle
ratio and by the 50 percent reduction of catalyst
volume in the water-cooled reactor.
Large single-train capacity. Two single-train
plants with capacities of 5,000 t/d are under
MegaMethanol plants up to a capacity of
7,500 t/d can be designed as single-train plants.
Its process and component designs are backed by
Lurgis expertise, which includes 38 methanol
plants, more than 100 steam reformers and
32 autothermal reformers.
Summarising, the unique advantages of the
Mega-Methanol technology result in methanol
prices of about $65/t and make this process
ideally suited to be part of Lurgis downstream
methanol route from C1 to propylene and other
chemical products, like acetic acid, oxo-alcohols,
acrylic acid, acrylates and many more.

Lurgis MegaDME: Source of Another Clean Fuel

DME is industrially important as the starting material
in the production of the methylating agent dimethyl
sulphate and is used increasingly as an aerosol propellant.
In the future, DME could be an alternative to conventional diesel fuel or a feedgas for power generation in
gas turbines. Both applications are based on large-scale
production facilities in order to achieve an economic
fuel price.
Traditionally, DME was obtained as a by-product of
high-pressure methanol synthesis. Since low-pressure
methanol synthesis was established, DME has been
prepared from methanol by dehydration in the presence
of suitable catalysts. The dehydration is carried out in
a proven fixed-bed reactor. The product is cooled and
distilled to yield pure DME.
A modification of the methanol synthesis would
allow for co-generation of DME within the methanol
synthesis loop. This technical path has two disadvantages. While dehydrating methanol, the water vapor
content increases, thus enhancing the water-gas shift
reaction. By converting CO into CO2, the quality of the
synthesis gas deteriorates. The kinetics of the reaction of
CO2 and H2 is lower than the one of CO and H2. As a
result, the synthesis catalyst volume and the recycle loop
capacity have to be increased. In addition, due to its low
boiling point, a cryogenic separation is required in order
to separate DME from the synthesis recycle loop. Because
of these disadvantages of the co-generation of methanol
and DME, Lurgi favors the concept of generating DME
from methanol by dehydration.
If a DME unit is added to the MegaMethanol Plant
as shown in Figure 3, the distillation of methanol can be
reduced from a three-tower system to one tower, which
is the Light Ends Tower. The end product of this tower
is stabilized methanol with a water content of approximately 20 percent. The stabilized methanol is fed to
the DME reactor, where methanol reacts to DME and
water and very small amounts of light ends, like CH4,
CO2, CO and H2.
The reaction product is forwarded to the DME product
tower, where DME and light ends are separated from
methanol and water. The light ends are flashed and separated from the liquid DME product. Remaining DME in
the light ends is recovered by absorption with stabilized
methanol. Then the light ends are sent to OSBL as fuel
gas. The bottom product of the DME product tower is
fed to the methanol tower, where methanol and water
are separated. The methanol is recycled to the DME
reactor to minimise methanol losses. The major portion
of the water is sent back to the feedstock saturator in the

synthesis gas production. The surplus is sent to OSBL as

product water, which can be used for irrigation after
minor treatment.
In this process, all types and qualities of DME can be
produced. The different specifications for fuel gas, power
generation or chemical-grade DME can be achieved just
by varying size and design of the towers.
Plant Type
DME capacity

Mega Methanol &

5,000 t/d

Total Fixed Cost (EPC)

28.5 MMBtu / t MeOH

40.2 MMBtu / t DME
US$415 MM

Cost of production

US$93/t DME

Natural Gas Demand

Table 1: Economics of the Lurgi DME process

The economics of the Lurgi DME process are summarised in Table 1, assuming the following general setup.
All investment cost figures are budgetary estimates of
+/- 20 percent accuracy. Specific site conditions cannot
be reflected within these numbers.
DME product quality is at least 99.2 percent DME.
Natural gas consumption figures include energy
demand for air separation and power generation.
Total fixed cost includes air separation, power
generation and off-sites.
Natural gas price: US$0.5/MMBtu.
Depreciation: 10 percent of ISBL + owners cost
(i.e., 20 percent of "EPC").
Return on Investment: 10 percent of total fixed cost.
Operating cost for operator staff, plant overhead,
maintenance labor and material are included.
The figures show the superb economics of
MegaMethanol in combination with a separate
dehydration step.
Feasibility of Methanol and DME as Gas Turbine Fuel
At least one important GT manufacturer has tested
methanol and DME as fuel and studied the field extensively, and has come to the following conclusions.
Methanol as GT Fuel4.
Methanol is an attractive future fuel for stationary gas
turbine engines. Tests have shown that, with system and


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DME as GT Fuel5.
BP Amoco initiated key programs to
test various fuel mixtures containing
DME in the manufacturers test
combustors with equivalent electricity
production of nearly 20 MW. Later,
BP Amoco collaborated with EPDC
(Electric Power Development
Corporation, Japan) to conduct additional follow-up
tests. These tests showed that DME is an excellent gas
turbine fuel with emissions properties comparable to natural gas. Estimated performance of a nominal 700 MW
combined cycle power plant based on the GE 9E machine indicates that the heat rate using refrigerated DME
(at minus 25 degrees C) would be about 1.6 percent lower
than that using natural gas and about 6.3 percent lower
than that using liquid naphtha.
Based on the results of the extensive combustion
test programs, the manufacturer is prepared to pursue
commercial offers of DME-fired E class and F class heavyduty gas turbines. Such offers can be made with standard
commercial terms, including guarantees of output and
heat rate.

Given the availability of technologies for the production

of low-cost methanol and DME and their proven potential
as clean fuels, it remains an economic exercise to locate
the most promising sites for their application.
combustor modifications, methanol is readily fired and is
fully feasible as a gas turbine fuel. Relative to natural gas
and distillate, methanol can achieve an improved heat
rate, higher power output due to the higher mass flow, and
lower NOx emissions due to the lower flame temperature.
The efficiency increase of methanol versus distillate can
be about 10 percent. Since methanol contains no sulfur,
there are no SO2 emissions. The clean burning characteristics of methanol are expected to lead to clean
turbine components and lower maintenance than with
distillate fuel.
The manufacturer is prepared to make commercial
offers for new or modified gas turbines utilizing liquid
methanol fuel. Additionally, vapor methanol fuel is
feasible with a special design of the fuel system to ensure
the absence of a liquid phase that could occur during
all modes of operation. For either liquid or gas, the gas
turbine fuel system must be modified to accommodate
the higher mass and volumetric flow of methanol
(relative to natural gas or distillate). The low flash
point of methanol necessitates explosion proofing. It
also dictates that startup be performed with a secondary
fuel, such as distillate or natural gas. Combustion
validation testing is required to confirm operability
and emissions.

Figure 4: 5,000t/d Lurgi MegaMethanol plant,Trinidad, 2002



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Feasibility of Methanol and DME as Internal

Combustion Engine Fuel
Methanol is well proven in IC engines. Over time,
methanol has powered large fleets of passenger cars,
buses and trucks. Stationary power generators are
available commercially in dual fuel design for distillate
and methanol feeds. DME is attracting worldwide
attention due to its potential as an ultra-clean diesel
fuel alternative6,7. Initial diesel engine tests indicate that
DME would lead to ultra-low emissions that
would surpass Californias ULEV (Ultra
Low Emission Vehicles) regulations7.
Recently, DME-fuelled buses have been
demonstrated8. By extension, stationary
power generators will also be possible.
Economics of Methanol and DME
as "New Fuels"
Given the availability of technologies
for the production of low-cost methanol
and DME and their proven potential
as clean fuels, it remains an economic
exercise to locate the most promising sites
for their application. The low production
costs quoted above lead to "delivered"
energy costs of about US$4.2/MMBtu for
methanol and US$4.1/MMBtu for DME.

This compares favorably to costs of naphtha/diesel/fuel

oil in "gas supply restricted" areas like parts of India,
Spain, the Spanish Isles and the Caribbean. Prices
in these regions are reported as US$4.5/MMBtu for
LNG (where available) and as US$5.5-6/MMBtu for
naphtha/diesel, with peaks at 7.7 in special cases.
Transportation diesel goes for US$4.8-6.1/MMBtu
With these figures, methanol and DME are competitive
with traditional fuels in the regions considered. The
full advantage in a specific place has to be determined
by careful study, taking into consideration the local
conditions and the costs of refurbishing for the "new"
fuels. These costs will vary greatly with the type and age
of the existing equipment. For some new power plants,
investment cost reductions are possible because of the
reduced heat rates in GT-combined cycle applications.
In addition to these cost advantages, methanol and
DME carry environmental and strategic benefits. Both
"new" fuels are virtually sulfur free and display excellent
combustion characteristics. Strategically, these fuels will
be uncoupled from the petroleum market. The gas field
owner/developer and the investor of the methanol/DME
plant will be interested in entering long-term supply
contracts with the receiving power generator.
The selection between methanol and DME will depend
on economic as well as psychological considerations.
While the energy density of DME is 21 percent higher
than that of methanol, transportation in LPG-type vessels
is more expensive than in methanol tankers. This is
reflected in the very similar "delivered costs" given above.
While gas turbines are more easily switched to DME than
methanol, the DME storage and handling is more expensive. While methanol is shipped and handled more easily
than DME, it encounters problems as a health hazard
in some places. And some regions, such as in Japan and
parts of India, already have an LPG infrastructure in
place that could easily be modified to DME.
There are abundant natural gas reserves providing
low-cost feedstock for methanol and DME production.
Our challenge is the better use of natural resources,
especially in the case of associated gases still being flared
today. Lurgis MegaMethanol technology, based on
low-cost natural gas, brings down the delivered cost of
methanol to about US$4.2/MMBtu and of DME to
US$4.1/MMBtu. This opens up a completely new field
for methanol and DME in power production a field we
named MtPower.

Dimethyl ether, a traditional derivative of methanol,

could be a promising alternative fuel for power generation, diesel, LPG or the manufacture of olefins when produced in large capacities. The production of DME by
dehydration of methanol is more economic than the cogeneration of methanol and DME.
MegaMethanol plants up to a capacity of 7,500 t/d
can be designed as single-train plants. Its process and
component designs are backed by Lurgis expertise,
which includes 38 methanol plants, more than 100 steam
reformers and 32 autothermal reformers. Developments
are under way for 10,000 t/d plants, reducing production
costs again by more than 20 percent.
Michael Karl Strtling, chairman of Lurgi OelGasChemie
GmbH, has also served as chairman of Davy McKee AG
and Lurgi Zimmer AG.
Mr. Strtling began his career in 1966 with Dr. C. Otto &
Company GmbH in Bochum, Germany. Subsequently,
he became chief executive of the companys Otto
Argentina subsidiary in Buenos Aires, and in 1977
became director of procurement for the parent company
with major activities in Asia.
Mr. Strtling earned an M.B.A. from University Mnster
in 1966.

Energy Information Administration (EIA):"International
Natural Gas Information," 14 Feb.2001,National Energy
Information Center (http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/international/gas.html).
Ad.R.Punt:"Shells Perspective on the GTM options," EFI:Gas
to Market Conference,San Francisco,October 11-13,2000.
S.Streb and H.Ghna:"MegaMethanol:Paving the Way for
New Down-stream Industries," World Methanol
Conference,Copenhagen (Denmark),November 8-10,2000.
GE Position Paper,Schenectady,May 2001
(business communication).
Dr.A.Basu,BP,and J.M.Wainwright,GE Power Systems:
"DME as a Power Generation Fuel:Performance in Gas
Turbines," PETROTECH-2001 Conference,New Delhi,India,
January 2001.
T.Fleisch,J.McCandless et al,SAE paper 950064,1995.
R.Verbeek,J.Van der Wiede,SAE paper 971607.
Volvo,Statoil et al,"Demonstration of DME-fuelled City Bus,"
SAE paper 2000-1-2005.


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