Celanese Planning More Ethanol Investments
Jun16

Celanese Planning More Ethanol Investments

Celanese can’t seem to plunge into the ethanol business fast enough. Back in November, the company announced it was building one, and possibly two, 400,000-metric-ton ethanol plants based on its new TCX ethanol technology. It is also planning a 40,000-metric-ton demonstration plant in Clear Lake, Texas. Now the company says it is installing 200,000 metric tons of ethanol at its Nanjing complex as early as 2013. How? The company’s release merely said it would “modify and enhance its existing integrated acetyl facility.” This doesn’t say anything more about the nature of the technology than the company’s earlier line that TCX was based on its “acetyls technology.” However, the news promised at least the potential for new clues. The company started the acetic acid complex in 2007 with 600,000 metric tons of acetic acid capacity. It expanded the plant to 1.2 million metric tons using its AO Plus 2 acetic acid process. The company is planning to push that to 1.5 million tons using something called AO Plus 3. I called the company with a question: Would Celanese lose acetic acid capacity as a result of the ethanol project? This would tell me if a portion of the acetic capacity was being repurposed for ethanol. And that might indicate how closely related TCX technology is to methanol carbonylation into acetic acid. “We’re not disclosing that information,” Celanese spokesman Travis Jacobsen told me. Rats! He was kind enough to direct me to a website that Celanese has on the topic. Even that didn’t offer the kind of information I was looking for. My heart thumped a little when I saw a diagram with an ethylene arrow going into a box that said “acetyl technologies” and “ethanol technologies”. I wondered for a second if that meant oxidation, which has long been an alternative technology to carbonylation. Then I realized that the ethylene was probably just a reference the reaction to make vinyl acetate. Plus, Celanese clearly states over and over that the technology is syngas derived, so the building blocks we are looking for are clearly carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and perhaps methanol. Celanese’s ethanol technology remains a black box. My next step will be checking the patent literature for...

Read More
Celanese Says It Is The Amazon Of Ethanol
Dec17

Celanese Says It Is The Amazon Of Ethanol

Yesterday, Celanese hosted a conference call with analysts about its new ethanol technology. On the call were CEO Dave Weidman, CFO Steven Sterin, and senior operations VP Jim Alder. About a month ago, the company unveiled plans to build one, and possibly two, 400,000-ton-per-year ethanol plants in China based on coal and using its new conversion technology. It is also planning a smaller, 40,000-ton plant in Clear Lake, Texas, based on natural gas. The conference call didn’t shed a whole lot of light on what the technology is all about. It is pretty obvious that the process is based on gasification. Officials said that the plant can use any hydrocarbon feedstock, including biomass. Another clue is that Alder said that the technology “integrates elements of Celanese acetyls technology.” What could this mean? Well, acetic acid, also known as ethanoic acid, has two carbons like ethanol. In other words, it is ethanol plus a carbonyl group. Celanese and other companies make it via the carbonylation of methanol using carbon monoxide. Alder also mentioned that by the time the Clear Lake plant comes onstream in 2012, the company will have some 3,000 patents worldwide covering the technology, many of which are patents covering its existing acetyl chemistry. Company officials also stressed that the technology is highly selective for ethanol, a point of contrast, they said, between Celanese’s technology and existing processes to get to alcohols via gasification, such as Sasol’s. The economics, Weidman said, were “very favorable compared to fermentation.” Another advantage is that the technology is very scalable, officials stressed. Celanese can expand a 400,000 plant to 1 million tons at a fraction of the initial cost of building the plant. This seems to explain why Celanese said might build one--or two--plants in China. The options the company is looking at are either building a second plant, presumably at a different location, or expanding its first unit. Either way, Celanese wants to quickly ramp up the technology to about a million tons. To say that Celanese is excited about the technology is an understatement. I have never once heard a chemical company gloat about a technology more than Celanese has about this ethanol process. “This technology breakthrough is a new platform for earnings growth with the potential to reshape Celanese,” Weidman said. Weidman said that if Celanese had an operational million ton plant today, it would generate nearly a billion dollars in revenue and ethanol would be the Celanese business with the greatest profit margins. A cash cow is born, lay down some straw and gather the children. Officials did get a little carried away. One of the principals, I...

Read More