Eco-Alchemy:
China's Quest for Green Methanol Set to Revolutionize Oil Consumption

06.02.2024 / Lukas Strohmeier
Liquid Sunshine Energy Technology Co., Ltd., under the Geely Group, is responding to this challenge with an unprecedented green methanol project in Alxa League, leveraging vast renewable resources to initiate a major shift towards clean energy.

With a staggering investment of 18.53 billion yuan, the project unveils a phased plan poised for completion between July 2024 and August 2026. The inaugural phase aims to establish a demonstration facility with a capacity to produce 500,000 tons of green, #low-carbon methanol annually. The subsequent phase will see this capacity surge to 5 million tons, culminating in a long-term vision of reaching an annual output of 100 million tons. No timeline for the 100 million ton target has been published as of yet. Theoretically, the Alxa league area's renewable energy resources would result in a green methanol production potential of 200-300 Million tons. This ambitious project not only aims to reduce China's oil imports by up to 20% but also sets a new benchmark for renewable energy projects in terms of scale and investment. With an annual target of 100 million tons of green methanol, it addresses the strategic need to decrease reliance on imported oil, enhancing national energy security and sustainability.

The project's scale is underscored by its requirement for up to 200 GW of #electrolyzer capacity, dwarfing the capacity of the largest green hydrogen plant currently under construction, the NEOM Green Hydrogen Plant, which has just above 2 GW. This comparison highlights the project's monumental ambition, likening it to the scale of the Three Gorges Dam, one of the world's largest electricity-generating facilities by capacity.

Moreover, with an estimated cost in the range of $50 billion USD, the financial scale of this endeavor could potentially exceed that of the Three Gorges Dam, which, according to various sources, cost around $28 billion USD to construct, though some estimates, considering indirect costs, suggest the total could be much higher. This comparison not only illustrates the significant financial commitment required but also the transformative potential of the project in terms of energy production, environmental impact, and contribution to China's green energy transition.

By advancing this groundbreaking project, China demonstrates its dedication to green energy and the strategic imperative of nurturing domestic energy solutions. It tackles the essential task of reducing the economic and environmental impacts of oil dependency. As this project progresses, it could serve as an inspiration for global efforts towards a more sustainable and secure energy future, setting a new standard for large-scale renewable energy investments.‍
Is this project realistic at all? And more importantly - where should all the biogenic CO2 come from?
The ambitious green methanol project's feasibility, particularly concerning the sourcing of sufficient biogenic CO2, appears contingent upon leveraging industrial CO2 emissions. Realistically, the project might only be viable if it extensively utilizes captured industrial CO2, transported via pipeline to the production site. This approach would necessitate a significant scaling-up of carbon capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure across industries, alongside developing a comprehensive network for CO2 transportation. For comparison: China released 11.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2022, making it by far the world's largest polluter that year.

Given the project's scale, this strategy could address the challenge of securing the vast amounts of CO2 required, while also mitigating potential impacts on biomass resources and land use.
Methanol cars?
China's initiative to promote methanol as a vehicle fuel represents a strategic shift towards reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and advancing towards carbon neutrality by 2060. Despite facing challenges such as limited infrastructure and the current reliance on coal for methanol production, the country is actively expanding methanol vehicle adoption, supported by government policies and pilot programs in coal-rich provinces. Methanol vehicles, known for their lower production costs and reduced emissions compared to petrol vehicles, offer a promising alternative towards achieving a more sustainable transportation sector. This move aligns with China's broader environmental goals and underscores its commitment to diversifying energy sources, ensuring energy supply, and promoting regional economic development.

As of recent reports, China has around 30,000 #methanol vehicles on its roads, a number that underscores the nascent state of this technology compared to electric vehicles (#EVs), which have seen exponential growth over the same period. The development of methanol passenger cars has been relatively slow, with the nation focusing more significantly on EVs for its green transition. Methanol vehicles in China have seen limited expansion due to several factors, including fewer than 200 methanol refueling stations nationwide, concentrated mainly in provinces where pilot programs are conducted. This infrastructure limitation makes long-distance travel for methanol cars challenging within the country.

Geely, the project developer and a major domestic Chinese automaker, has been at the forefront of developing methanol cars, having initiated this venture since 2005. By last year, Geely announced it had developed over 20 models of methanol passenger and commercial vehicles, marking the company as the world's first to achieve mass production of methanol vehicles. This development underscores Geely's commitment to innovating within the methanol vehicle space.

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