Published March 2019
Methaforming is an emerging process for producing high-octane gasoline from naphtha and methanol. Most refiners currently upgrade naphtha by hydrotreating followed by isomerization and continuous catalytic regeneration (CCR) reforming. The new process from New Gas Technologies Synthesis (NGTS; Houston; www.ngts.us), can upgrade light to full-range naphtha and aromatic plant paraffinic raffinates to high-octane gasoline blendstock in a single unit. The developers claim that the process yields less than 1% benzene and can handle feeds with up to 1,000 ppm sulfur; thus, removing up to 90% sulfur without the need for prior hydrotreating.
Methaforming uses a proprietary zeolite catalyst in fixed-bed adiabatic reactors with intermediate methanol injection. The catalyst dehydrogenates methanol to release methyl radicals, which initiates a series of reactions that convert linear paraffins in the low-octane feeds into primarily 2/3 branched iso-paraffins and aromatics. Typical reaction operating conditions are 350–420 °C, and 5–12 bara. The process development and early screening were conducted in three pilot plants including a 2 L reactor (0.23 BPD capacity) pilot plant that started up in 2015. A new 9 L (2 BPD) unit with a three-stage reactor started up in December 2018 with the primary purpose to validate the results of the smaller screening pilot plants and confirm design parameters for a full scale (11,000 BPD) Methaformer planned by a major Russian refiner will launch in 2023. A demo Methaforming unit of 150 BPD (6 KTPA) capacity located in Russia was operated briefly before it was shut down because of feed contamination.
While methanol is the primary oxygenate used in the Methaforming process, other oxygenates such as ethanol can also be used. Light olefinic gases such as a fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) dry gas can be used with or instead of methanol.
This review evaluates the Methaforming process technology and estimates fixed capital costs and production economics for an 18,274 BPD (770 KTPA, 1698 million lb./yr) base capacity methaformate production plant. The corresponding feed naphtha consumption is 20,000 BPD (791 KTPA). The process is compared with conventional naphtha upgrading options of isomerization and continuous catalytic reforming.