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Methanol Opportunities Highlighted At Forum

Bandar Seri Begawan - The Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB) conducted a roundtable forum on the uses of methanol and how it can help develop local businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, at the Sheraton Utama Hotel yesterday.

The roundtable was attended by SME business-people, who heard that the main goal of the BEDB is to create employment and better working opportunities. Employment and business opportunities are linked.

The mission for BEDB is to enable small businesses to grow beyond the region and expand for a sustainable future, rather than remain as small businesses.

The three main emphases are sharing information through initiatives, increasing their capacity, and creating new industries while also learning about them.

"Brunei's main objective is to secure a smaller level of costs but with a higher margin, thus increasing their volatility." This observation was made by Managing Director of Methanol Market Services Asia, Mark Berggren, who pointed out the applications of methanol, which is a "necessary ingredient for products".

The chemical engineering expert described methanol in its simplest form. Methanol is a gas converted to liquid. It is toxic and denaturant. In his presentation, he said that 25 per cent of methanol blends with gasoline. Methanol can be used in a range of wood products, paint products, silicon, etc.

A methanol plant is being built in Sungai Liang. There are two major waves of investments which will provide new opportunities and benefit a cluster of employees servicing these industries.

"Some people can make DME from gases, but the applications are further down the road. Cars can also be modified for methanol use for low-level costs. The incremental costs are within the region of $50-150,"

Berggren added. Methanol is cheaper than gasoline and contains lower energy content.

Methanol is safer than gasoline and has no added sulphur and better emission.

There are certain advantages that may serve the consumers well.

Berggren said it is like a battery with a membrane separated by hydrogen. Methanol can be useful for military uses too.

The forum was led by Dato Paduka Timothy Ong, Acting Chairman of BEDB, where the panelists shared with the participants their experiences in their line of work such as managerial role and their company's main targets.

Pengiran Kerma Raja Pengiran Kamarulzaman, Chairman of Sungai Liang Authority, said that he was appointed to administer and run the industry.

Manager Methanol Global Business of Mitsubishi Gas Chemical, Shinichi Tokuda said they had undertaken an expensive operation in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. "Our aim is to develop at least two spin-off industries based on methanol at SPARK. In addition, we see opportunities for local SMEs in the construction phase as well in the operations phase," Tokoda added.

Mohammad Reduan of Brunei Methanol Company added that he wanted SPARK to be a world-class industrial estate. "We are trying to find investment, mainly in methanol activities," he said. Part of the vision is to dictate the implementation and identification of the spin-off industries.

According to Klaus Starke of Man Ferrostaal, a leading German company, methanol is an exciting fuel. Methanol is quite a demanding material and requires highly-skilled people with very good qualifications.

Mohammad Reduan also revealed that prior to 2010, several managers have already been finalised for the subcontracting works for SMEs.

He said that sub-contracting works will be advertised early next week. Programmes will be run equipped with technology. The transfer of skills began at the end of last month.

Tokoda also spoke of the company's history. Mitsubishi Gas Chemical was initiated in 1951 and methanol was first processed in 1952. The company can be a benchmark, for BEDB as it expands its capacity.

By 2010, methanol is expected to be the third largest industry in Brunei behind petroleum and liquefied natural gas.

Yesterday's roundtable was part of the BEDB's continuing efforts to create new business opportunities for the people of Brunei Darussalam.

It is for local SMEs to look- at new business opportunities arising from the methanol plant developed by the Brunei Methanol Company ?a joint venture between Mitsubishi Gas Chemical, Petroleum Brunei and Itochu Corporation. Construction of the plant will begin before the end of this year for methanol production to begin in mid-2010.  -- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

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