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Green methanol produced in Iceland

In Iceland renewable geothermal energy is utilized to produce Green Renewable Methanol; a synthetic liquid fuel which can be used as a fuel blend for normal gasoline combustion engines. The company behind this innovation is Carbon Recycling International (CRI).

Methanol-CRI-process-explainedMethanol is one type of alcohol fuel that can be used as alternative fuel in gasoline combustion engines, either directly or in combination with gasoline. If it is used as low blend in gasoline, very little or even no modifications of the engine are needed.

Methanol is produced from hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Normally the feedstock is petroleum based, such as natural gas or coal. However, it is possible to obtain the hydrogen portion of the synthesis gas via electrolysis, as well as the carbon monoxide by collecting it from a a biomass, factory emissions or a geothermal borehole.

The Green Renewable Methanol produced by CRI is made from water and carbon dioxide from a geothermal power plant. The electricity used in the process comes from the same geothermal power plant (the Svartsengi Geothermal Plant in Southwest Iceland). One might wonder why power from geothermal power plants in Iceland is categorized as renewable energy, since they emit carbon dioxide. The fact is that the amount is tiny compared to fossil fuel tendencies – yet enough for CRI to utilize it for methanol production. And CRI refers to its product as Green Renewable Methanol because it captures carbon dioxide that would otherwise escape to the atmosphere.

Methanol-CRI-George Olah-plant-Svartsengi

The methanol from CRI’s plant is blended with regular gasoline to meet the fuel standards of the European Union (EU). According to the European regulations, the maximum volume of methanol in the gasoline can be three percent). In the world about 20 million tons (25 billion liters) of methanol are consumed as fuel annually. However, only a fraction of it is from renewable sources.

It is expected that the market for renewable automobile fuels in Europe will more than double before 2020. Large share of that will be in the form biofuels from food sources. The market for renewable transport fuels which are of non-biological origin or from waste is expected to show the fastest growth in coming years. CRI may be in a unique position having brought a renewable fuel to the market from non-biological sources (as opposed to oil seeds, corn or sugar cane). The Green Renewable Methanol proves that carbon dioxide can provide alternative renewable fuel and it is not necessary to use scarce agricultural resources or destroy forests and wetlands to grow fuel crops. And, unlike hydrogen, methanol can be transported and distributed via existing gasoline infrastructure.

argos-energiesEarlier this year (2013), CRI announced that the first shipment of renewable transport fuel from its production plant in Iceland had been shipped to Dutch oil company Argos in Rotterdam, signaling the entrance of transport fuel from geothermal sources to the European market. Argos is the largest independent player in the downstream oil market in Western Europe and distributes over 17.5 billion liters of fuels each year. The company has a leading position in the Netherlands and also operates a distribution network in Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland. Argos has been ambitious in providing renewable fuel and it will be interesting to see how the Green Renewable Methanol from Iceland will fit into their fuel mix.