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UC to research for world’s largest supplier of methanol

UC to research for Methanex, the world’s largest supplier of methanol

December 10, 2012

A University of Canterbury researcher has received a $750,000 study grant from Methanex New Zealand Ltd, the country’s only methanol manufacturer and a subsidiary of Canada-based Methanex Corporation – the world’s largest methanol supplier.

The grant is to fund research to improve the performance of stainless steel piping.

UC mechanical engineering professor Milo Kral said the certainty of substantial funding over the next five years will allow forward planning of a comprehensive research programme in the area of high temperature materials and state of the art equipment to produce world class research.

``The ongoing support of Methanex has been one of the most rewarding partnerships for us at UC. For more than 10 years Methanex has provided funding for research projects focused on improving the performance of stainless steel piping used in steam methane reforming, a key process in the conversion of natural gas to methanol.

``The performance of materials is measured in terms of microns at temperatures as high as 1200C, which is obviously a difficult task that requires specialised equipment developed specifically for this purpose.

``The effects of exposure to such harsh environments are also analysed using electron microscopes. Overall, the process of conducting the research produces a result for Methanex, trains our students to work in the industry and raises UC’s profile.’’

Most of the UC research has been related to the topic of high temperature metallurgy – which is a specific field of study that is linked to the equipment used in the methanol reforming process.

This has provided a better understanding of the materials important to production and has allowed significant improvements to be made in the performance and life of critical components within the reforming process.

The opportunity has been taken to formalise the relationship with UC by establishing the Methanex Chair in Metallurgy with Professor Kral as the first incumbent.

The agreement will provide certainty of funding for future student research projects as well as allowing Professor Kral Milo to contribute more time directly to Methanex projects.

Methanex’s managing director, Harvey Weake, said the relationship with UC had been mutually beneficial.

``It has allowed us to provide a sound educational platform for young engineers while at the same time learn and benefit from their engineering solutions. We look forward to continuing and strengthening our partnership over the coming years.’’

The agreement between Methanex and UC will consolidate all the work done to date and will provide a better forward planning protocol. Methanex New Zealand and its precursor companies have benefitted over the years from dozens of engineers who have learnt their profession at UC.

Methanex New Zealand owns two methanol facilities in Taranaki – the Motunui and Waitara Valley sites. Currently, the company is producing 1.5 million tonnes of methanol per year and contributes $305 million to the Taranaki GDP and $455 million to the New Zealand GDP annually. More than 90 percent of the methanol produced in New Zealand is sold for export to markets in Japan, Korea and China.

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