By: Diana Velázquez

Methanol was originally produced by the destructive distillation of wood chips, which is why it is also known as wood alcohol. For its production over the years, raw materials like coal, oil and heavy naphtha have been used; however, nowadays the production of methanol comes from natural gas and steam.

The natural gas is heated in the presence of steam in order to obtain a reformed gas, also known as synthesis gas, this gas is compressed before it passes to a synthesis reactor in which in the presence of Zn, Cr, Mn and more catalysts, reacts exothermically to produce crude methanol, which is then purified by a distillation process to obtain refined methanol.1

The methanol industry has grown in recent years, and has made presence in Asia, North and South America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The approximately 90 methanol plants around the world have a combined production capacity of roughly 110 million metric tons (almost 36.6 billion gallons or 138 billion liters). 2

According to IHS Chemical, the global demand of methanol reached 80 million metric tons in 2016, however this demand is expected to keep growing, mainly because of the applications of emerging energies.3 The unceasing growth of the industry requires a continuous search of new economic and ecofriendly technologies. This has allowed the emergence of biological products for industrial applications, as in the case of methanol.

In the methanol industry, the usage of microorganisms for the cleansing of industrial equipment has positioned itself in recent years as a cost-effective and pure option for the removal of residues and incrustations in methanol synthesis reactors. The microorganisms manage to remove paraffin residues and incrustations with the same or even greater efficiency and efficacy than conventional chemical products, and these outcomes have resulted in:

• Improvements in the thermal efficiency of the system.
• The improvement of heat transfer in the exchangers to stabilize the extraction (remove heat from the reaction).
• A uniform temperature distribution in the reactor.
• A better usage of the catalysts before their reactivation or replacement by favoring catalytic activity.
• The decrease in the generation of hazardous waste and the costs of handling after cleansing.
• The reduction of health and safety risks for employees who perform maintenance work, as they are not exposed to hazardous chemical substances.

1. Methanol Production – A Technical History. Johnson Matthey Technol. Rev., 2017, 61, (3), 172–182 2. Methanol Institute. 3. HIS Chemical Bulletin 2016 issue 3 – The changing face of the global methanol industry.