Australian operator lets contracts for green methanol plant

Nov. 20, 2023
ABEL Energy of Australia has let contracts to Houston-based SunGas Renewables and Johnson Matthey for the operator’s proposed Bell Bay Powerfuels green hydrogen and methanol project.

ABEL Energy Pty Ltd. of Australia has let contracts to Houston-based SunGas Renewables Inc. (SGR) and Johnson Matthey PLC (JM) to jointly provide design, key technologies, and equipment for the operator’s proposed Bell Bay Powerfuels green hydrogen and methanol project (BBPP) to be built on the site of a decommissioned power station in the Bell Bay region of northern Tasmania.

As part of the mid-November agreements, SGR will deliver its proprietary SunGas System 1000 renewable syngas generation unit, or gasifier, specifically designed to convert sustainably sourced wood fiber into renewable syngas feedstock for production of green methanol based on JM’s licensing and supply of its methanol synthesis loop technology and associated catalysts, the operator and service providers said in separate releases.

Scheduled for completion in 2027, the BBPP plant—which will require 240 Mw of electrolysis—will have a nameplate production capacity of 300,000 tonnes/year (tpy) of green methanol, three times Australia’s current methanol consumption. Its output will also have the shipping-fuel equivalent of removing 540,000 tpy of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, ABEL Energy said.

Official contract awards to SGR and JM follow previous collaboration between the service providers and ABEL Energy on design and optimization studies to ensure full integration of the technologies into the proposed $1.4-billion (Aus.)—roughly $890-million—project, the parties said.

ABEL Energy said development of the BBPP plant comes amid increased demand for green methanol following a surge in new orders by global container-shipping companies—led by Denmark-based A.P. Møller–Mærsk AS—for new clean-burning, methanol-powered container ships to help decarbonize the marine shipping industry.

In July, SGR announced subsidiary Beaver Lake Renewable Energy LLC (BLRE) is developing its first green methanol plant in Pineville, Rapides Parish, La., that, if completed, will would produce 400,000 tpy of renewable, liquid green methanol fuel all of which will be allocated to Mærsk to fuel its growing fleet of ocean-going, methanol-powered container vessels (OGJ Online, July 28, 2023).

BBPP’s evolution

Under initial study in November 2020 following a grant from the Tasmanian government’s $20-million (Aus.) Tasmanian Renewable Hydrogen Fund—part of the wider $50-million Tasmanian Renewable Hydrogen Industry Development Funding program—the BBPP plant’s feasibility was studied using a 100-Mw electrolyzer plant.

Developed as a large-scale, renewables-based hydrogen and hybrid e-methanol plant, the project was designed to incorporate biomass gasification of plantation forestry residues in conjunction with water electrolysis to produce 200,000-300,000 tpy of green methanol with the possibility of including direct capture of atmospheric CO2.

Specifically, the project was to use a 120-260 Mw electrolysis plant powered by hydro and wind-based sources to produce renewables-based hydrogen, most of which would be used alongside syngas as feedstock for green methanol production, with the remaining hydrogen to become available for domestic consumption.

In June 2023, ABEL Energy and financial partner Iberdrola Australia Ltd. confirmed selection of the project’s location as the decommissioned Bell Bay power station, the site of which includes its own deepwater berth that Bell Bay Powerfuels will use to export surplus green methanol.

Upon announcing site selection for the BBPP, ABEL Energy said the project will also require development of new power-generation assets to provide sufficient renewable power for the planned electrolyzer’s production of green hydrogen.

While the operator has yet to officially confirm specific details regarding the renewable power supply, a project description on the company’s website said the 100% renewable power sources would come from hydro and new wind production assets, fresh water from major river systems, and biomass residues recovered from existing Tasmanian plantation forestry operations.