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1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2005

Figure 12.2 Historical global demand for methanol. (Source: Methanex and Chemical Week.)

conversion of CO2 (to be discussed subsequently) are essential new technologies for the proposed "Methanol Economy".

There are today more than 600 million private motor cars and some 200 million light and heavy trucks registered worldwide. Together, they represent 80% of the energy consumed in the transportation field. Air, maritime, rail and pipeline transport account for the remaining 20% or so. In 2002, the transportation sector consumed some 1.75 billion tonnes of oil, yet with increasing demand - especially from developing countries - this figure is expected to grow substantially to reach more than 3 billion tonnes in 2030, with 1.3 billion vehicles on the road [180]. Given these numbers, it is evident that any alternatives to oil-based fuels will have to be produced on a very large scale. Methanol, as discussed earlier, has for the same volume only about half the energy content of gasoline or diesel fuel. Replacing only 10% of our current energy needs for transportation would require the production of some 350 million tonnes of methanol per year (about 11 times today's world production). However, as methanol FCVs are expected to be twice as energy-efficient as present ICE vehicles, this would decrease the amount of fuel necessary by about half. With the widespread use of fuel cell technology, the amount of methanol required for the transportation sector would thus become comparable to that of oil-based fuels. For methanol to become a major fuel of the future, a significant scale-up in production capacity and new technologies will be needed.

Although conventional natural gas reserves are currently the preferred feedstock for the production of syn-gas-based methanol, unconventional gas resources such as coalbed-methane, tight sand gas and eventually vast methane hydrate resources will also be used. So will, besides methane, any other available fossil fuel source - and particularly coal, with its vast reserves, widespread availability and low cost. Coal, at present, is thus the best alternative to natural gas (methane) -based syn-gas. Large domestic coal supplies in major energy-consuming countries such as the United States or China offer price stability and enhanced independence from geopolitically unstable regions. Coal however, must be mined and has the drawback of releasing large amounts of pollutants into the atmosphere. Considering climate change, it also produces more CO2 compared to methane and petroleum. In order to minimize CO2 releases, biomass represents another possible source for methanol but, due to the enormous energy needs of our modern society, biomass will be able to cover only a fraction of the demand. To lessen our dependence on fossil fuels and also to address the CO2 emission problem, new and improved methods of methanol production are needed. Besides directly converting methane (natural gas) to methanol without going through syn-gas, the combination of hydrogen, made with use of renewable or nuclear energy sources, with CO2 from fossil fuel-powered electric plants, other industrial sources and eventually the atmosphere itself allow independence from diminishing fossil fuel resources.

212 | Chapter 12 Production of Methanol from Syn-Gas to Carbon Dioxide Methanol from Fossil Fuels

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