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Topsoe to build demo plant to produce cost-competitive CO2-neutral methanol

In Denmark, Haldor Topsoe A/S, a global leader in high-performance catalysts and proprietary technologies for the chemical and refining industries has announced that it will build a 10 kg/hour methanol plant to demonstrate the company’s electrified and extremely compact "eSMR Methanol" technology for cost-competitive production of sustainable methanol from biogas. The demonstration plant will be located at Aarhus University’s research facility in Foulum.

A traditional steam methane reformer reactor (left) is heated to 900 °C by combustion of natural gas in a large chamber. The proposed electrified reactor based on Haldor Topsoe’s technology uses direct electric heating. About 100 times smaller than the traditional gas-fired reactor, more energy-efficient, and able to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions significantly by using biogas including the CO2 and renewable electricity to produce methanol (image courtesy Haldor Topsoe).

A traditional steam methane reformer reactor (left) is heated to 900 °C by combustion of natural gas in a large chamber. The proposed electrified reactor based on Haldor Topsoe’s technology uses direct electric heating. About 100 times smaller than the traditional gas-fired reactor, more energy-efficient, and able to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions significantly by using biogas including the CO2 and renewable electricity to produce methanol (image courtesy Haldor Topsoe).

In many countries, producing grid quality biomethane or renewable natural gas (RNG) is still costlier than the natural gas it replaces. If biogas producers can produce sustainable methanol instead, they will be able to increase their production value significantly and compete on commercial terms with fossil-based products. Methanol is used as a clean fuel or an important intermediary in the production of biodiesel along with many chemicals and polymers.

The demonstration plant, scheduled to be fully operational at the beginning of 2022, is expected to demonstrate that sustainable methanol production from biogas can compete with traditional methanol production based on fossil fuels. Haldor Topsoe’s “eSMR Methanol” technology exploits the full carbon potential of biogas by utilizing the 40 percent carbon dioxide (CO2) content that is separated and vented when upgrading biogas to grid quality biomethane.

The technology heats the process using green electricity from wind turbines or solar panels instead of natural gas.

We look forward to repeating the very promising results we have achieved in the laboratory at an industrial scale. We want to show that sustainable methanol can be produced from biogas at a cost similar to that of traditional methanol produced from fossil fuels. The eSMR Methanol technology is about 100 times smaller than the traditional units which makes it a very attractive solution for decentral biogas sites and world-scale producers alike, said Peter Mølgaard Mortensen, Principal Scientist at Haldor Topsoe.

Recently published in Science magazine, eSMR Methanol is based on Topsoe’s eSMR technology. The groundbreaking technology produces synthesis gas, syngas, an essential building block in the production of polymers and chemicals. It can reduce the traditional steam reforming unit found in most chemical plants from the size of a six-story building, 30 meters in length, to just a few cubic metres in size.

The extremely compact technology replaces the natural gas-fired heating of traditional steam reformers with direct electric heating of the catalytic process.

We see the electrified reactor as the next logical step for the chemical industry. With this approach, producers get a viable way to transform the industry going towards greener processes without increasing production cost, said Peter Mølgaard Mortensen.

Haldor Topsøe is leading the eSMR Methanol project, which includes the partners Aarhus University, Sintex A/S, Blue World Technology ApS, Technical University of Denmark, Energinet A/S, Aalborg University, and PlanEnergi. The project is supported by the Danish Energy Technology Development and Demonstration Program (EUDP).

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