The technology to produce methanol from coal, which could be a very important source of liquid fuel, has been known for some time but was cost prohibitive. Now, in what is claimed to be one of the Department of Energy's most successful Clean Coal Technology projects, Air Products Liquid Phase Conversion Co. LP, a partnership between Air Products and Chemicals Inc. and Eastman Chemical Co., successfully completed a nearly 11-year project to demonstrate an advanced method to make methanol from coal. The project was one of 38 joint government-industry clean coal technology demonstration ventures funded by the Energy Department in a program originally started during the Reagan Administration.
Prior to the project, Eastman made methanol using coal or synthesis gas from its Coal Gasification Facility. The synthesis gas was reacted to methanol in a fixed catalyst bed reactor. The Clean Coal Technology project demonstrated a new, more effective way to carry out the coal gas-to-methanol synthesis step with enhanced feedstock flexibility. In the 1980s, a joint Air Products-DOE research project improved the process by suspending the catalyst in an inert mineral oil, and bubbling the coal gases through the slurry. In 1989, the Energy Department co-funded a proposal by Air Products to scale up the Liquid Phase Methanol (LPMEOHTM) process to full commercial size. Project plans were outlined in 1992 and plant construction began in 1995. The first production of methanol occurred in April 1997, and operation reliability was 97.5% percent during a demonstration phase from 1998 through 2000-the best of any of the original Clean Coal Technology projects co-funded by the Energy Department in the late 1980s and early 1990s.