Methanol is a key component of hundreds of chemicals that are integral parts of our daily lives. Methanol occupies a key position in the chemical industry, as a highly versatile building block for the manufacture of countless everyday products. The largest scale applications in terms of volume are processing into formaldehyde, which is further treated to form resins, glues and various plastics, and for the production of acetic acid which is essentially used for the production of polyester fibers and PET plastics. Methanol has been one of the world’s most widely used industrial chemicals since the 1800s.
Methanol to Olefins
One of the newest and fastest growing markets for methanol is the production of light olefins, primarily taking place in China. Olefins – ethylene and propylene – are the backbone of the plastics industry and are typically produced from the steam cracking of hydrocarbons such as ethane and naphtha. In regions that do not have access to low cost ethane or more expensive naphtha, methanol can be used as a feedstock for olefins production. According to IHS, we have seen staggering growth in methanol consumption into this end use with as many as seven MTO units running by the end of 2015. With three tons of methanol used to produce every ton of olefins, MTO has become the sixth largest methanol derivative in just four years of commercial existence.
Methanol is a principal ingredient used in the production of formaldehyde, a colorless, flammable, odorous gas. Formaldehyde is produced by the catalytic oxidation and dehydrogenation of methanol using either a silver catalyst or a metal oxide catalyst. The wide range of uses for formaldehyde make it essential for the operations of nearly 50,000 product manufacturing facilities in the U.S. alone. Worldwide, one-third of the demand for methanol is for formaldehyde production. At about 10 million metric tons, this is the largest single market for methanol.
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