Eco Driven: An exclusive interview with Nasser Jeham Al Kuwari, CEO of QAFAC

by  — 18 November 2014

As a global hydrocarbon player, Qatar is home to many of the industrial products that act as feedstock for industry, including methanol. It is a clean energy source used as both transportation fuel and in electricity generation. Within the petrochemical industry, methanol is used as a raw material in solvent manufacturing.

The first-ever Middle East Methanol Forum (MEMF) will be held in Doha this month under the patronage of HE Dr. Mohammed Bin Saleh Al Sada, Minister of Energy and Industry, State of Qatar.  On the eve of the forum, Nasser Jeham Al Kuwari, CEO of Qatar Fuel Additives Company Limited (QAFAC), in an exclusive interview with The Edge, reveals how the forum will shape industry dialogue in the region and help broaden the export markets for the company.

As a global hydrocarbon player, Qatar is home to many of the industrial products that act as feedstock for industry, including methanol. It is a clean energy source used as both transportation fuel and in electricity generation. Within the petrochemical industry, methanol is used as a raw material in solvent manufacturing.

On the world stage, with production facilities in Asia, North and South America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, over 90 methanol plants worldwide have a combined production capacity of about 100 million metric tonnes (almost 33 billion gallons or 90 billion litres), says Nasser Jeham Al Kuwari, CEO of QAFAC. As far as methanol’s usage and consumption is concerned, more than 100,000 tonnes of it is used as a chemical feedstock, or as a transportation fuel equivalent to 60 million gallons or 225 million litres each day. “As a truly global commodity, methanol is currently ranked second in the world in amount transported, with more than 80,000 metric tonnes shipped daily from one continent to another,” says Al Kuwari.

Explaining the factors that prompted the need to hold the first-ever MEMF, Al Kuwari says, “With these staggering figures, QAFAC felt that it was timely and very important to initiate the MEMF as a platform for the Gulf region. The Gulf Cooperation Council’s importance as a global energy and downstream chemicals hub are increasingly having a greater influence on a globally-connected and integrated economy.”

 Al Kuwari adds that methanol plays an essential role in the future of a wide spectrum of business sectors that affect our daily lives and so the time has come for Qatar and the region to showcase methanol’s value to the global economy.

“Through open and continuing discussions and the sharing of knowledge and expertise by key industry leaders from around the world, the importance of the product can be highlighted. Undoubtedly, at a time of rapidly evolving technologies, such discussions will have far-reaching implications on the methanol industry and on our lives as end-users of energy and the wide range of products that are produced out of methanol,” stresses Al Kuwari.

Industrial utility

As a key industrial product, especially in the oil and gas industry, numerous applications transform methanol into vital products and commodities that drive modern life. Methanol is also used on its own in a number of applications. For instance, its high octane rating allows for superior vehicle performance compared to gasoline. 

 According to Al Kuwari, as a number of countries have adopted or are seeking to expand methanol fuelling programmes – making it the fastest growing segment for the use of methanol in the marketplace today – such use could also be adopted in Qatar. Methanol’s price is low compared to gasoline or ethanol, and vehicles can be modified quite easily to run on blends of methanol fuel, for incremental costs of as little as USD100 (QAR364) per vehicle. 

 Al Kuwari goes on to explain that, “methanol fuel blends also produce less toxic emissions than reformulated gasoline, including lower particle matter, sulphur dioxide and related smog-forming emissions. All of these benefits make methanol a viable alternative for domestic transportation fuel”.

 Dimethyl ether (DME), one of the solvents that is produced using methanol, has a number of uses in products and is most commonly used as a replacement for propane in liquid petroleum gas (LPG), but can also be used as a replacement for diesel fuel in transportation. Al Kuwari explains that DME is water soluble, non-toxic and biodegradable in the event of a spill. It can be readily made from natural gas through a refining process that converts natural gas to syngas, syngas to methanol, and methanol to DME. Water is the only significant byproduct of this refining process. “As a transportation fuel,” he adds. “DME can be burned in compression engines and is thus a potential substitute for diesel fuel. Diesel engines require only minor modifications to run on DME [it] preserves the 30 percent greater efficiency of compression engines that burn diesel over spark ignition engines that burn gasoline.”

Commenting on the non-energy sector use of methanol in Qatar’s economy, Al Kuwari points out that it will largely depend on the growth and development of its manufacturing sector, as well as in national policies formulated and promulgated by the government.

Al Kuwari says however, “Through QAFAC’s existing methanol plants, which has a production capacity of 982,350 tonnes per annum of methanol, we can provide the domestic market with sufficient product to meet local demand.”

Primary export markets

QAFAC’S export markets span countries in Asia, the Far East and Europe.

Al Kuwari offers the reason why these countries prefer buying the product from QAFAC and not some other company, either in their domestic economy or from another country. “Among the reasons why such markets prefer our products is mainly due to our focus and emphasis on high quality, world-class standards,” he says, adding that QAFAC’s commitment to such standards is reflected by constant quality upgradation, implementation of operational excellence programmes to elevate the operational standards and the ISO 27001 certification for Information Systems Security.

More importantly, says Al Kuwari, QAFAC offers added value through Muntajat, its strategic partners primarily tasked with purchasing, marketing, distributing and selling methanol and methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) produced by QAFAC to over 120 countries worldwide. By making full use of its 36 offices spread around the globe, and a number of logistics establishments and warehouses that support all of Muntajat’s activities, QAFAC ensures an efficient supply chain through reduced lead times and enhanced customer experience, while retaining continuity of supply and world-class quality that customers demand. 

Environmental protection

As an energy player, environmental protection is a priority for QAFAC. Al Kuwari states that the company strictly adheres to global standards of environmental protection. At the same time, QAFAC also stringently complies with and implements Qatar’s environmental sustainability regulations and policies as contained in the National Vision 2030.

“QAFAC’s EMS was awarded the ISO 14001 certification in 2005, which has been renewed up to now, reflecting our commitment for environmental issues,” says Al Kuwari.

 Commenting on the initiatives that QAFAC has taken on its own, Al Kuwari mentions, “Stepping up the climate change challenge and playing our part in fulfilling the vision, we looked for ways to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.”

Al Kuwari adds that the Carbon Dioxide Recovery Project (CDR) in partnership with Mitsubishi Heavy industries is an innovative solution that reduces QAFAC’s total greenhouse gas emissions. “CDR meets a business need by reusing the 500 tonnes per day of recovered CO2 in the methanol plant, enhancing the annual production by 90,000 additional tonnes.  In addition to this, the plant recovers 35 cubic metres of water per hour from the flue gases and reuses it in the process cycle,” says Al Kuwari.

Moreover, QAFAC is the first industrial operation to obtain the Environmental Permit from the Qatar government after submitting a formal and comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment Report.

 Al Kuwari concludes, “Therefore, as part of the steps we take towards environmental protection, we focus on the production and promotion of clean fuel products, as well as strict Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) policies within our plants in order to safeguard not only our personnel from any harm or incident, but also the environment.”

For more info log onto QAFAC’s website.

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