Trinidad methanol plant almost finished; start-up mid-2019

By December 10, 2018 December 11th, 2018 Methanol Market

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Construction of a new methanol plant in Trinidad and Tobago is in the final stages and could start up as early as mid-2019. The 1m tonne/year plant at La Brea, in southwestern Trinidad, is 90% finished, according to a statement from owner Caribbean Gas Chemical Limited (CGCL). The plant will also include 20,000 tonne/year capacity for dimethyl ether (DME).

Construction originally was expected to wind up by early December on the $1bn project, which is a joint venture between three Mitsubishi firms (Mitsubishi Corp, Mitsubishi Gas Chemical, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries), Trinidad’s state-run utility and Trinidad-based Massy Holdings.

CGCL did not cite a final completion date but said the plant is in the “pre-commissioning phase” and that the original March 2019 start-up date has been pushed to June because of construction delays.

Long-standing gas supply problems in Trinidad have been a major obstacle for the island’s petrochemical industry headquartered at the Point Lisas Industrial Estate, but the new methanol project at La Brea is 28 miles (45 km) south.

The state-run utility, National Gas Co, is the CGCL project’s primary gas supplier, said Josieann Richards, corporate affairs manager.

Trinidad is only a few miles offshore from Venezuela, but one advantage for Mitsubishi in building the new plant on the island is that the methanol can be shipped to the US duty-free.

Mitsubishi owns two methanol (Metor) plants at Jose, Venezuela, and the South American country historically has been been a major methanol supplier to the US, as has Trinidad.

The difference is that Trinidad cargo comes into the US duty-free while shipments from Venezuela are hit with a 5.5% import tax, said a source close to the project.

No surprise, then, that Trinidad usually provides a much larger share of US imports than Venezuela. In 2017, Trinidad accounted for 49% of all US imports and Venezuela 23%, according to trade data.

The US is fast-becoming a net exporter of methanol, though, and reducing its dependence on both countries. US methanol exports passed imports in September for the second month in a row.

But the US is not really the main target destination of the new plant in Trinidad. A big target is Japan, which depends entirely on imports for its methanol.

“We of course will bring some portion to Asia,” the source said of the Trinidad plant’s methanol, “but it will do for the US and EU as well.”

Focus article by Lane Kelley

Photo source: Caribbean Gas Chemical Limited (CGCL)