Coal continues to be a useful resource for reasons unrelated to burning it for fuel and energy. Honeywell, an engineering conglomerate from the United States has updated their manufacturing toolsets to include producing materials that convert methanol from coal to plastic. This, allegedly, would mean China could potentially meet the demand for plastics.
The technology is called Advanced Methanol-to-Olefins (MTO) technology. It involves using coal and natural gases to create ethylene and propylene that we see in many of the plastics we use today. Honeywell opened a new facility that would facilitate the technology just outside of Shanghai.
"Using these feedstocks [the converted coal] in the most cost-effective way requires innovative proven technology," said Honeywell.
The process of converting coal to ethylene and propylene is a two-step process.Honeywell details it in a video you can see below.
- Coal or natural gas to methanol
- Methanol to olefins using the MTO technology, which can be made into plastics
"MTO is an innovative, proven technology that enables countries such as China that are rich in coal, but which have had to import petroleum, to make plastics. Honeywell UOP has licensed eight MTO units in China in just the last three years, and this new facility will allow us for the first time to fully manufacture MTO catalysts in China for our Chinese customers," said Rajeev Gautam, president and CEO of Honeywell's Performance Materials and Technologies business group.
The process has only been around since 2013 and is becoming more famous due to a global demand for ethylene and propylene. According to Honeywell, the demand grows by 4 to 5 percent every year. China will allegedly pump $100 billion in coal-to-chemicals by 2020. Honeywell has also assured the public that they use local raw materials, support the local community and "incorporate zero-discharge wastewater treatment. "