Coalbed Methane



Coal Mine Methane Use in Methanol Production
July 2010 Why Consider Coal Mine Methane in Methanol Production?

Coal mine methane can be an attractive alternative to conventional natural gas for small methanol plants.

Methanol is used widely (about 37 million tonnes per year) as a raw material and a key component of many products. Approximately 40 percent of methanol is converted to formaldehyde, which is then used in a diverse range of products such as plastics, plywood, paints, explosives, and permanent press textiles. Methanol also is used in the production of acetic acid, an important chemical in the paint and adhesive industries. A number of new markets for methanol are emerging, such as production of dimethyl ether (DME), a chemical derivative of methanol. DME is used as a clean burning alternative to liquefied petroleum gas, liquefied natural gas, diesel, and gasoline, as well as a propellant and refrigerant. Another new market opportunity could be methanol to olefin (MTO) projects. Olefins such as ethylene, propylene, and butylenes are basic building blocks for petrochemicals. MTO is a two step process that converts Sand Creek Chemical Plant in Commerce City, Colorado methane into methanol, followed by the (uses conventional natural gas to produce methanol) conversion of methanol to light olefins. MTO plants can be located near (or integrated with) a methanol plant or they can be located separately (with the methanol plant located near the gas source and the MTO plant located near the olefin markets or olefin derivative plants). Advancing methanol opportunities are methanol to gasoline (MTG) projects, as well as the use of methanol in fuel cells. Methanol fuel cells are appealing, as storage of methanol is much easier than hydrogen as it does not require high pressures or low temperatures. Currently methanol fuel cells are being tested for use in hybrid vehicles and are already ideal for consumer electronics.

The cost of coal mine methane is often less than conventional natural gas.

A Viable Solution for Conventional Natural Gas in Methane Production...
• • • The methanol market is robust and growing worldwide Methane from coal mines often costs less than conventional natural gas The use of coal mine methane reduces greenhouse gas emissions

EPA Coalbed Methane Outreach Program Technical Options Series


Alternatively. Typical 2010 methanol prices are around $US 1. providing capital and energy saving. gas quality should be high in methane and low in nitrogen. To date.5–3. although production tends to be concentrated in areas where natural gas is abundant. but can contain other trace impurities such as oxygen at low levels. as methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Methane requirements for small plants range from 7–8 million ft3 (200–226 thousand m3) per day. • • • • • • • EPA Coalbed Methane Outreach Program Technical Options Series www.0 bcf/year) to fuel a small (25–30 million gallons/year) methanol plant.10/thousand m3).26–$0.32 m3) of methane will produce 10 gallons (38 liters) of methanol.00–$6. For safety reasons.28/liter). or for heat or electricity generation. Coal-based methanol plants. These plants require 300–500 mcf methane/year.epa. EPA Coal Mine Methane Use in Methanol Production www.05/gallon ($US 0. smaller (3–5 million gallons methanol/year) mobile methanol plants are currently being developed for use at offshore oil rigs and may eventually be an option for use at coal mines. Startup costs are approximately $US 6. Methanol prices can be volatile.88–$2.7 million for each million gallons of annual plant capacity ($US 200 million for a 30 million gallon/yr plant). assuming natural gas prices of $5. however.30/gallon ($US 0. natural gas typically accounts for about half of production costs at small plants. At $5. are in operation and large scale methanol production from coal is being developed. Production costs are $US 1. Most coal mines vent this methane to the atmosphere.epa. Coal mines do not produce enough methane to fuel large methanol plants. but also contributes to global warming. and natural gas typically represents the most important cost component.00/mcf.00/mcf ($1. Some Facts about Methanol Production… • • 1 mcf (28. This represents not only the loss of a valuable fuel The market for methanol is increasing worldwide. but one or more very gassy mines typically produce enough methane (2. Gassy mines are often located near methanol markets. many gassy underground coal mines must drain methane from their coal seams. Most of the world’s production of methanol uses natural gas as a feedstock. Small plants produce 25–30 million gallons (95–114 million liters) per year. however a project is planned at the mines of Shaanxi Coal and Chemical Industry Group in Shaanxi province 2 .00–$1.Coalbed Methane OUTREACH PROGRAM U.34/liter). potentially reducing transportation costs. Ideally. A growing number of mines in many parts of the world. no methanol producers have used coal mine methane. however. recover the drained methane for sale to market via pipelines. CO2 levels as much as 25 percent are beneficial. Many countries produce methanol.S.

Felicia Ruiz e-mail: Phil Eastland Business Manager – Methanol Davy Process Technology Limited 20 Eastbourne Terrace London W2 6LE UK phone: +44 (0)20 7957 3956 fax: +44 (0)20 7957 3922 How is Methane Converted to Methanol? The first step in producing methanol is converting methane to syngas. Coal mine methane is a potential feedstock for methanol and other Ms. Contact U.pamela@epa. To obtain more information about methanol production. EPA Coal Mine Methane Use in Methanol Production www. a catalytic process converts syngas to crude methanol. Jayne Somers e-mail: Dr.epa. 740 Arlington.felicia@epa. EPA’s Coalbed Methane Outreach Program for information about this and other profitable uses for coal mine Dr. several companies are demonstrating new technologies to reduce this expense.S. EPA’s Coalbed Methane Outreach Program Washington. Pamela Franklin e-mail: franklin.epa. or by catalytic conversion of methane. Finally.S. DC USA http://www.) 3 . (Conventional technologies for this part of the process can be expensive. however.S. either by steam reforming methane and carbon dioxide. Catalyst Methanol Water Syngas Steam Converting syngas to methanol For More Information… Changing energy markets worldwide are prompting producers of coal and other fuels to look at new markets for coal mine methane. The mention of products or services in this case study does not constitute an endorsement by EPA. contact: Greg Dolan VP Communications & Policy Methanol Institute 4100 North Fairfax Drive.jayne@epa. Use of coal mine methane is also beneficial in that it reduces emissions of this potent greenhouse gas to the atmosphere. distillation purifies the crude methanol to chemical grade. EPA Coalbed Methane Outreach Program Technical Options Series www. VA 22203 phone: (703) 248-3636 fax: (703) 248-3997 e-mail: MI@methanol.Coalbed Methane OUTREACH PROGRAM http://www.epa.

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