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Gulf methanol plant gets $2 billion loan

Department of Energy to back world’s largest industrial carbon capture facility

by Melody M. Bomgardner
December 27, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 1

Credit: romanm/Wikimedia Commons
A DOE-backed methanol plant will gasify petroleum coke, a refinery waste product.
This image shows a pile of petroleum coke, a coal-like waste product from crude oil refining.
Credit: romanm/Wikimedia Commons
A DOE-backed methanol plant will gasify petroleum coke, a refinery waste product.

A new firm called Lake Charles Methanol has received a $2 billion conditional loan commitment from the Department of ­Energy for a facility that will produce methanol by gasifying petroleum coke, a waste product from oil refining. The plant will capture and purify by-product carbon dioxide for use in enhanced oil recovery.

Pending completion of financing, the $3.8 billion plant will be built in Lake Charles, La. and supplied with coke from nearby refiners. In addition to methanol and CO2 it will produce hydrogen, sulfuric acid, argon, krypton, and xenon.

Although the plant will use existing technologies for its gasification and gas separation and purification units, it will be the first in the U.S. to make methanol from petroleum coke. In the U.S., methanol is most commonly made from natural gas; plants in China rely on coal gasification.

The chemical industry has long known that petroleum coke could be used as a methanol feedstock. In 2007, Eastman Chemical announced plans for two Gulf Coast projects to do so, but they were canceled after the advent of hydraulic fracturing made natural gas routes more cost-competitive.

The Lake Charles plant is also the first facility to obtain a DOE loan guarantee under a program designed for large-scale fossil energy projects. “It would be the world’s first methanol facility utilizing carbon capture technology and would become the world’s largest industrial manufacturing carbon capture facility,” says Mark A. McCall, executive director of the DOE’s loan programs office.

Compared to other methanol plants, Lake Charles Methanol will emit 36% fewer greenhouse gases, DOE says. Overall, it will capture 77% of its carbon emissions, sequestering more than 4 million metric tons of carbon each year. The plant will use “advanced ultra-clean” gasification technology from General Electric.

Although Lake Charles Methanol hasn’t stated what technology it will use to capture CO2, a similar project evaluated by DOE in 2012 included a solvent process to remove and purify CO2 and other gases.



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