Trinidad and Tobago building 5,000 tonne/day methanol plant

By Curtis Williams
OGJ Correspondent

PORT OF SPAIN, Aug. 8 -- Construction has begun in Trinidad and Tobago on what is thought to be the world's largest methanol plant.

Methanol Holdings (Trinidad) Ltd. is building the $500 million plant, which will have a capacity of 5,000 tonnes/day. This means the "M 5000" plant will not only be the largest in the world but one of the most costly methanol plant ever built.

The plant is being constructed on the Point Lisas Industrial Estate on the west coast of the island where there are already five other methanol plants operating and where two more are now under construction.

Chairman of MHTL Lawrence Duprey told OGJ that his company had made the single largest investment ever in the Caribbean island's petrochemical sector.

He said: "Our methanol group has been the main driver in making Trinidad and Tobago a dominant producer of methanol, and with the startup of M5000 in 2005, Trinidad will be both the number one exporter (and) the number one producer of methanol in the world."

"With the capability to utilize the purge gases from our existing plants to produce an additional 400 tonnes a day, he added, "the M5000 plant will easily be the largest methanol plant in the world in terms of production capacity."

Duprey said the state-owned National Gas Company will provide gas for the plant from Trinidad and Tobago's national grid, and he was happy with the price his company was paying for the gas.

Trinidad and Tobago operates a sliding pricing regime for petrochemical companies that results in a reduction in the price of natural gas when commodity prices are weak and an increase when they are strong.

The island's Energy Minister Eric Williams said his government was happy to approve the project because it would help Trinidad and Tobago maintain its lead as the leading exporter of methanol in the world.

"In a relatively short period of time," Williams said, "this country has moved from a position of zero production of methanol to one where it is now the leading exporter of methanol in the world—ahead of Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other big players. It is a lead we intend to keep."

In keeping with the gas master plan developed by consultants Gaffney Cline and Associates, the government wanted to encourage more downstream industries, Williams emphasized.

He said this was important to increase the benefits to Trinidad and Tobago from the exploitation of its natural resources. "As we view several projects that are now being developed, there are two significant (issues) that will be of importance. Investment by the direct domestic private sector and benefits from the marketplace flowing to Trinidad and Tobago," Williams said.

Any proposal for new gas-intensive projects that has downstream products as an integral element will receive priority treatment by the Government, he said.

"We have reached levels of production in methanol, LNG, and ammonia, where we must now consider how to increase value to these products locally," Williams said, adding, "Methanol to olefins, ammonia to urea, urea ammonia nitrate, (and) melamine extraction of ethanol leading to an ethylene-based petrochemical complex are some of the areas which over the next few months will receive full attention of the Government."

The German Development Bank K.F.W is financing the project with a $425 million loan, another $100 million having been sourced privately.

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