Published October 1968
Synthetic methanol for many years has been one of the most economically and technically stable organic chemicals. This stability has been due to a steadily growing volume and diversity of applications and to a well established, low cost method of production. Commercial processes, until recently, have been basically similar, and only slightly different from the first synthesis developed in 1923.
The success of methanol, paradoxically, has exposed the industry to the instability of mammoth plant technology. Large plants are reducing the competitive capability of smaller units. The potential value of small improvements and cost reductions applied to thousand-ton/day outputs is exerting a stimulating influence on process development.
The main purpose of this study is to examine the current economic and technical status of the long established, widely used high-pressure system, An attempt is also made to evaluate the importance of recent low-pressure methods for the synthesis of methanol. These are based on natural gas and naphtha, since these two raw materials account for 90-95% of world methanol output.
Other processes for methanol production, including cyclic routes by way of methyl formate and direct chlorination-hydrolysis of methane, are discussed in lesser detail. Other raw material sources such as the now largely supplanted solid fuels and the lately proposed basic oxygen furnace off-gas have also been considered.