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...

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