M2X Energy makes methanol out of flared gas
Mella McEwen, MRT.com/Midland Reporter-Telegram April 23, 2023
Oil and gas producers are increasingly called on to mitigate, if not outright halt, methane emissions.
Those efforts will come at a cost, but some technologies promise to create a revenue stream from what would otherwise be flared or vented gas.
Florida-based M2X Energy is planning to initially deploy its new technology – modular, transportable gas-to-methanol plants – in West Texas and North Dakota, according to Josh Browne, co-founder and chief technology officer.
Browne told the Reporter-Telegram in a telephone interview the technology began as an academic exercise, working on technology that would use an internal combustion engine to take very rich flare gas and generate alternative fuels like syngas or methanol.
Breakthrough Energy Ventures, founded by Bill Gates, helped found and fund M2X. Now the company’s first commercial-scale system was put to work at a West Texas well pad performing a 100-hour test. The full system will be put to work at another well pad in North Dakota in June with different natural gas composition and flow rates to further test the technology.
The pilot unit is designed to consume approximately 85,000 standard cubic feet per day of flare gas and produce 5,000 barrels of methanol per year. Construction is starting on a second trailer, and Browne said the company is scaling its fleet plans in alignment with funding.
“We’re spending seed money and actively looking for investors,” he said. “We hope for $50 million to support 12 systems over the next two years. The economics are based on replacing economies of scale with mass manufacturing and automation – doing the same thing over and over to drive down costs.”
Generating methanol was chosen because “Methanol is easy to store and transport, it’s safe to handle and has a commodities market so we know it has value,” Browne explained. “It’s also easy to make.”
Methanol’s uses vary from hydrogen carrier to low carbon fuel to engineered lumber, low carbon plastic to synthetic fibers.
Not only does it reduce the amount of natural gas that is stranded and needs to be flared but increases the supply of methanol, he noted. Furthermore, he said, half of methanol is now made from coal and using natural gas instead would lower the carbon content. Customers are also paying a premium to import methane produced in South America.
There has been an increased dialogue around methane emissions and around new monitoring techniques – from ground sensors to satellites – that have found a lot of new emitters that in the past were undetectable, Browne said.
“I think we will have a positive impact on methane emitters,” he said. “This is a pragmatic economic solution. We’re going to depend on oil and natural gas for quite some time.”
Browne likes the fact M2X’s technology takes a century-old technology – the internal combustion engine – that has contributed to warming and repurposing that technology and giving it new live as a conductor for clean fuels.
He predicted the first customers for the technology would be smaller companies because M2X is selling a service, not capital-intensive equipment. With agreements on revenue sharing in place, he said the technology could help the smaller companies clean up their operations, meeting regulations and, most importantly, the upcoming methane intensity tax included in the Inflation Reduction Act.
He added, “What I like about the system is we can scale down units. We can grab smaller streams – 30,000 to 50,000 standard cubic feet that don’t get addressed because they’re too small for pipelines.”
Interesting read - thanks for posting.
Reminds me of the portable "gas capture units" that were rolled out in the late 1990's that basically liquified gas and trucked it off to processing plants.
This was a popular thing for stranded gas wells in parts of California.
Ended up being too costly to work at that time.
I think that any process that is a meaningful profit for operators will be a success.