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Methanol in top gear

Summary

Demands on vehicle emissions and efficiency are increasing. As a result, there has been renewed interest in electrical vehicles. Fuel cells can be used as the on-board source of electrical energy, giving electrical vehicles refuelling and range characteristics comparable to those of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Nitrogen examines the developments in fuel cells for vehicles, including those using methanol feedstock, and their imminent commercialisation.

Abstract

The solid polymer fuel cell (SPFC), or proton ex-change membrane fuel cell (PEMFC), has demonstrated its efficiency and low emissions in transportation applications. But in order to become an alternative to the internal combustion engine, it must prove viable with respect to size, weight, cost, safety, performance and comfort.

The major technical challenges currently are the development of a fuel processor suitable for use in a SPFC system. Present SPFC technology requires the carbon monoxide level of the hydrogen-rich gas stream from the fuel processor to be less than 2 ppm, although some fuel cell manufacturers claim a higher tolerance. Whilst it is possible to reduce the carbon monoxide to 2 ppm in a steady state, transient conditions pose a problem. In addition, for a passenger car application, size is also a problem.

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Methanol markets under the Clean Air impetus

Summary

The future of methanol demand in the US has become increasingly linked with the politics of the Clean Air Act and its mandate for methanol derivative methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) in motor fuel. In this article, Nathan Edmonson* considers the US methanol and MTBE markets and looks at where things currently stand with the reformulated gasoline (RFG) debate.

Abstract

Methanol, or methyl alcohol, is an important buil-ding block in today’s chemical industry. It is also a motor fuel, but it suffers from several drawbacks which will probably keep it from ever becoming a serious substitute for motor gasoline. In spite of this, methanol has achieved a central role in the development of motor fuels under the impetus of the worldwide clean air movement in the last twenty years. This has occurred because of the growing role of a derivative product, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), as part of the gasoline blend. MTBE is an octane extender, and, as an oxygenate, an improver of clean-burning characteristics of motor fuel. Worldwide demand for oxygenates, of which market MTBE enjoys the largest share, has increased at a rapid rate, especially in the 1990s.

In meeting this growth in demand, the methanol and MTBE industries have faced a number of market and regulatory uncertainties, and these have contributed to market turbulence. Even as growth in its fuel market slows, methanol producers face the prospect of some highly interesting developments in their cost structure. The following paper presents an analysis of methanol’s fuel and other markets.

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Methanex fit for the future

Summary

In the five years since its incorporation, Methanex has expanded from its single plant in Canada to become the world's largest producer and trader of methanol. After its dizzying rise to market leadership, the past year has seen the company begin re-engineering itself to face the challenges of the next century.

Abstract

Methanex started life as the chemicals division of Canadian-based Ocelot Industries, and was spun off as a separate company in September 1991, changing its name to Methanex six months later. Originally, Ocelot operated only a single methanol plant, at Kitimat, British Columbia, and the spun-off company also had a 51% stake in a neighbouring ammonia facility. In December 1991, however, the company bought out the North American methanol interests of its largest shareholder, Metallgesel-lschaft (MG), including a portion of the Enron plant in Texas. On its incorporation as Methanex, the company also bought MG’s Cari-bbean interests, and later in 1992 MG’s European methanol marketing interests, and a 70% share in the Fortier Methanol Company in Louisiana where an idled ammonia plant was being converted to methanol production.

A series of mergers, acquisitions and marketing arrangements followed which gradually brought more and more methanol production under Methanex’s control, including the Medicine Hat plants owned by the NOVA Corporation, Fletcher Challenge’s Waitara and Motunui methanol and synfuel production, and the Cape Horn methanol plant in Chile. The ammonia interest was divested in 1995, and since then the expansion of the methanol market caused by the RFG programme in the US has led to several new constructions, in New Zealand and Chile.

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Primary reformer operation: a unique application of multivariable control

Summary

A unique, multivariable control system has been installed in a typical Kellogg-designed ammonia plant using natural gas as feedstock. As a result, the plant is operating more smoothly, safely and profitably. Robert Lin*, Himal Munsif** and William Poe***, describe the design, installation and operation of the system.

Abstract

Early applications of multivariable control date back to the 1960s and have been documented for many industries.1,2 These applications employed ex-pensive and awkward computing equipment. More recently multivariable control has been applied on personal computers as their power has rapidly increased.

The basic theories of multivariable control have been extended to development of a rigorous dynamic and steady state fundamental process model-based multivariable controller with integrated economic optimisation that can be run quickly and robustly. With assistance from the Gas Research Institute, a modular, on-line, closed loop multivariable system to optimise and control ammonia processes has been developed and validated.

Several multivariable control approaches have been developed including dynamic linear models and rigorous steady state models.3 A unique, hybrid approach known as MVC® combines reduced, rigorous, fundamental models with plant dynamics and economics to produce a set of non-linear multivariable controller/optimiser solutions designed to handle an operation’s particular requirements.

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