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BASF creates process for climate-friendly methanol

29/05/2019
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With the chemical industry coming under scrutiny for the greenhouse gas emissions involved during the production of basic chemicals, BASF has created a new process to produce methanol without any greenhouse gas emissions.

The new process has been created by a team within BASF’s Carbon Management Program – an ambitious attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the entirety of BASF’s operations.
Aspects of the new CO2 emission-free methanol synthesis process were tested in a pilot plant at BASF's subsidiary hte GmbH in Heidelberg, Germany.
(Aspects of the new CO2 emission-free methanol synthesis process were tested in a pilot plant at BASF’s subsidiary hte GmbH in Heidelberg, Germany. Image via BASF).

Typically, methanol is made from syngas, which until now has been primarily obtained from natural gas via a combination of steam and autothermal reforming. Using special catalysts, this can then be turned into crude methanol, which can be further processed after purification. In the new BASF process, the syngas is generated by partial oxidation of natural gas, which does not cause any carbon dioxide emissions and has proven to be advantageous in a study jointly conducted with Linde Engineering. The subsequent process steps – methanol synthesis and distillation – can be carried out nearly unchanged.

As part of this climate-friendly process, BASF had to deal with the merging and processing of the waste gas streams that arise during methanol synthesis and distillation. BASF disposes of these waste gas streams – which consist of methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen – by incinerating them in an Oxyfuel process with pure oxygen. This results in a small volume of ‘flue gas’ which has a maximum carbon dioxide content. This flue gas is scrubbed using BASF’s OASE process for full recovery of the carbon dioxide. To ensure that the carbon contained in the carbon dioxide is not lost and that it can be used again for methanol synthesis, the captured carbon dioxide is fed back into the beginning of the process.

Commenting on this new process, Dr Maximilian Vicari of BASF’s Intermediates division, said:

“We are optimistic that our climate-friendly approach will better adapt methanol synthesis to the requirements of the 21st century. Nearly 100 years after the first industrial-scale production of this important basic chemical using BASF’s high-pressure process, we are now taking a leading role in writing the newest chapter in the history of methanol.”

The basic chemical methanol is an important starting material for many products in different value chains. Derived products such as formaldehyde, acetic acid and methylamines are very important in terms of volume. Other important derivatives include methyl tert-butyl ether, methyl methacrylate, polyalcohols and silicones. Methanol also serves as an energy supplier and can be used as a raw material for chemical conversion into other fuels or fuel additives.

It is estimated that it will be approximately a decade before this new climate-friendly process for methanol production can be carried out on an industrial scale.

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BASF creates process for climate-friendly methanol - Time to read 3 min
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