AS OF NOVEMBER 30, 2018, Trinidad and Tobago ceased being a producer of fuel. Now the country will have to import fuel on the open market, leaving it vulnerable to the volatility of commodity prices.
The methanol lobby, however, believes it has a solution to help lower the fuel import bill and save the country up to half a billion dollars annually. All it takes is a small substitution.
“Methanol has excellent qualities as an automotive fuel and while there are challenges to its usage in this sector, these challenges have been successfully resolved in other countries. If we replace just five per cent of the 1.7 million gallons of gasoline we import per day into this country with methanol, we have the potential to save upwards of $240 million per year,” said Dennis Patrick, CEO of Methanol Holdings (Trinidad) Ltd (MHTL), one of the largest methanol producers in the world. Patrick was speaking at a forum hosted by MHTL and the Methanol Institute recently, to encourage adoption of the process in TT.
The process is simple enough. The equivalent amount of gasoline removed from a system is replaced with methanol. Since methanol is cheaper than gasoline, the difference in price will amount to the savings.
Logistically, the blending can also be done easily – at main bunkering terminals, storage centres and also at primary distribution centres – so the infrastructure already exists. Trinidad also happens to be a major methanol producer – at least 4.6 million gallons, so sourcing the product won’t be difficult.
David Cassidy, chief executive of MHTL’s parent company, Proman, told Business Day, “A lot of people don’t realise that gasoline is a soup with over 25 components. There’s no product that is gasoline. All you need to do is have methanol written into the legislation and that’s it. The next day it can be added.”
In the UK, for example, up to three per cent of methanol is allowed in fuel without penalty. In China, hundreds of millions of people are driving vehicles that use fuel between 15-85 per cent with no problem, as in Israel, where it’s between five to 15 per cent methanol. “It’s a fact of life in lots of countries. We just need someone to change that (here),” Cassidy said.
This isn’t the first time the methanol producers have made this pitch. The first time was around 2011-2013, but it was rejected because there was no incentive for the monopoly fuel producer – Petrotrin. Now that the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery has closed, there’s a renewed opportunity because the country is now an importer of refined petroleum products.
“Methanol-gasoline blending represents an opportunity which can provide foreign exchange savings, reduce fuel cost, and create a cleaner fuel for our vehicles – benefits which Trinidad could then pass onto other Caricom countries,” Patrick said.
What’s the catch? “There is no catch, for MHTL or even Methanex (another major TT methanol producer). We don’t need to sell more methanol. The demand for methanol around the world is excellent. We’re not going to make more money out of it. We’re simply going to solve a problem. So, it should be a win-win situation for everyone. And I hope it gathers momentum,” Cassidy added.
The challenge though, seems to be getting all the stakeholders on board. Patrick said the company “welcomed” the input of Government, particularly the Energy Ministry, although there hasn’t been much feedback. Business Day requested comments from the Ministry of Finance, who referred all questions to the Ministry of Energy. The Ministry of Energy acknowledged receipt but up to press time, did not provide its response.