13 May 2019 - 11:12
  • News Code: 289131
World’s Largest Methanol Plant Ready for Startup

TEHRAN (Shana) -- The world’s largest methanol production plant in Iran’s southern Bushehr Province is ready to come on-stream. Built by the private sector, this plant is able to produce 7,000 tonnes a day of methanol.

Foad Jaberi, CEO of the plant, has played down concerns over future product sales as US sanctions take effect. “There is nothing to worry about in selling our products,” he said.

The high value-added of production at petrochemical plants and Iran’s access to low-cost feedstock have helped Iran’s petrochemical industry experience high growth in recent years. Iran is still far from its realistic status in the global petrochemical trade; however, it managed to export about $12 billion worth of petrochemical products by March 2018.

Currently, 54 petrochemical plants are operational in Iran, supplying 53.6 million tonnes of petrochemicals. About 30.7 million tonnes of products would be ready for sale and the rest is consumed by and between the plants. 

Furthermore, 34 petrochemical projects have had over 20% progress. Once these projects have been completed, Iran’s petrochemical production would soar to 75 million tonnes by March 2022. If no more petrochemical projects commission, the output from the existing projects would exceed 100 million tonnes by March 2026.

Kaveh Plant

Among petrochemical projects ready to come online, Kaveh Methanol Petrochemical Plant is the most outstanding. First and foremost, it is under construction by the private sector. Second, it has capacity to produce 7,000 tonnes a day of methanol – which is the largest amount in the world. Therefore, most equipment fitted in this plant is being used for the first time.

The Kaveh plant is located on a large piece of land measuring 220 ha near the city of Dayer in Bushehr Province. It is the largest AA-ranked producer of methanol in North Pars. The license and basic engineering for the plant belong to Swiss Casale while detailed engineering has been done by Petrochemical Industries Design and Engineering Company (PIDEC) and necessary utilities have been designed by an Iranian company.

The ground was broken for the construction of the Kaveh methanol plant in 2004. The infrastructure was then prepared; however, due to international sanctions Iran could not purchase necessary equipment until 2014.

The project accelerated after Iran signed the 2015 historic nuclear deal with six world powers, leading to the lifting of sanctions on the country.

Different divisions of the plant started operation in 2017 and the entire plant is now ready for operation.

Hassan Asbomahalleh, director of operation at the Kaveh plant, said: “Since this complex is the largest of its kind in the world, we have used unique equipment in its construction. For instance, the largest reformer and synthesis reactor, the largest ATR reactor and the largest air compressor have been installed at this complex.”

The largest ASU unit with a capacity of 120,000 normal cubic meters per hour, including the world’s largest air compressor and three tanks for liquefied oxygen, argon and liquefied nitrogen is installed at the Kaveh plant. Furthermore, two 50MW steam turbine power plants and a 55MW gas power plant, four water desalinators, 14 diesel-fueled generators, seven boilers, and seawater pumping station with four pumps have been used at this complex. The seawater cooling tower system at the Kaveh methanol plant is the first of kind in Iran. It has four cells with different performance. They were purchased with 24 fans with a capacity of 80,000 tonnes per hour the largest synthesis reactor weighing 1,250 tonnes from Italy. There was initially no crane in Iran to install the purchased materials. This crane was designed and built at the Kaveh Industrial Group. Furthermore, a jetty was built for importing and exporting solid products and another one for carrying liquids and methanol from this plant.

Another outstanding feature of the Kaveh petrochemical plant is its equipment with the largest reformer unit in the world. This unit converts natural gas to synthesis gas.

Maximum Local Content

As long as managers of the Kaveh plant had in their authority and the standards allowed, orders were placed with Iranian companies for the manufacturing of necessary equipment. For instance, distillation towers were built in Iran. Iranian manufacturers also built the world’s largest structure reformer. However, some materials whose production was not possible in Iran were purchased from leading European and Asian companies.

To build the Kaveh methanol plant, the equipment needed for transducers and pumps were purchased from South Korea, reactors and reformers from Italy, piping materials from top European manufacturers and the compressors’ main parts from Siemens.

“Since the complex was built under Swiss Casale license, we purchased our necessary equipment from the vendors confirmed by Casale,” said Ahmad Ahmadi, deputy CEO of the Kaveh plant.

Referring to sanctions imposed on Iran, he said: “After the implementation of the JCPOA (the nuclear deal) and prior to the US’s withdrawal [last May], we made our necessary purchases and we even purchased more than we needed.”

“Meantime, the Kaveh Industrial Group produces most of its own equipment. Therefore, even if the sanctions are tightened we have enough spare parts and there is nothing to worry about,” he said.

Countering Sanctions

After the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the ensuing imposition of unlawful and unilateral sanctions against Iran’s petroleum industry, managers of petrochemical plants have been concerned with selling petrochemical products and importing some sophisticated equipment.

Behzad Mohammadi, CEO of Iran’s National Petrochemical Company (NPC), said that Iran’s current international conditions had recently created some restrictions for the petrochemical industry.

“However, petrochemical companies have found very good options to resolve their issues and restrictions. Efforts will be made to avert any specific problem,” he said.

Jaberi is also concerned with the sanctions. However, he said: “We know how to counter sanctions in selling our products.”

Referring to the three licenses obtained for methanol, urea and ammonia, and carbonate, he said: “After this complex has been launched, the urea unit with capacity of 1.072 million tonnes a year, the ammonia unit with capacity of 726,000 tonnes a year, as well as two methanol units would be established.”

Regarding compliance with environmental obligations, Jaberi said: “All sections of this complex have been built in compliance with environmental standards.”

The methanol production capacity in Iran’s petrochemical plants currently stands at 5.16 million tonnes a year, which would reach 21.24 million tonnes once the new projects have become operational.

What’s Methanol?

Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol among others, is a chemical with the formula CH3OH (a methyl group linked to a hydroxyl group, often abbreviated MeOH). Methanol acquired the name wood alcohol because it was once produced chiefly by the destructive distillation of wood. Today, methanol is mainly produced industrially by hydrogenation of carbon monoxide.

Condensation of methanol to produce hydrocarbons and even aromatic systems is the basis of several technologies related to gas to liquids. These include methanol-to-hydrocarbons (MTH), methanol to gasoline (MTG), and methanol to olefins (MTO), and methanol to propylene (MTP). These conversions are catalyzed by zeolites as heterogeneous catalysts.

Production Process

Designing methanol units is done through one of the following methods:

One method is conventional, through which the methanol synthesis gas is produced from reforming natural gas. The synthesis gas is then compressed in the methanol reactor to be converted into raw methanol, which would in turn be distilled to provide pure methanol. The method has already been used at the Shiraz, Kharg and Fanavaran petrochemical plants.

The second method, which mainly applies to larger units with an output of over 1 mt/y, the bulk of synthesis gas reforming is done in the auto thermal reactor (ATR). That needs oxygen, which is directly injected into the ATR reactor along with the fist reformer’s exit gas. Due to the high temperature at ATR, a rather large amount of steam is produced which is driven out of the methanol unit.

Therefore, the main pillar at methanol plants is gas.

“There is nothing worrying over gas supply and we provide it via national trunkline,” Jaberi said.

Until 1990 Iran had no methanol production unit and it had to ship in the necessary methanol. Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and during the 1980-1988 imposed war, the NPC envisioned designing a methanol unit to produce 84,000 tonnes of methanol a year. The would-be methanol facility was decided to be built near the Shiraz Petrochemical Plant which is located near methanol consumption units. The facility was launched in 1990, followed by the Kharg, Fanavaran and Zagros methanol plants.

The US is currently importing over 85% of its methanol needs, while European nations depend on imports from the Middle East and North Africa for more than 60% of their methanol needs.

Courtesy of Iran Petroluem

News Code 289131

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