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Motunui #1 restart - A Taranaki triumph

By Neil Ritchie

The refurbishment and recent restart of a second methanol production unit at Methanex New Zealand’s Motunui industrial complex north of New Plymouth was a triumph for the Taranaki energy industry and related sectors.

 The $100 million project was almost a “totally Taranaki” experience as the vast majority of Methanex NZ staff reside in the province and a myriad of the region’s top engineering, electrical, maintenance, insulation, cleaning and other support shops were involved.

 The second “train”, known as “Motunui #1” restarted right on schedule, on July 1, after six months of intense planning, preparation, inspection, fabrication and construction. Methanex NZ is now producing up to 1.5 million tonnes a year of methanol, almost double what it produced last year.

 Although the 2012 restart of Motunui #1 was similar to the 2008 restart of Motunui #2, both in terms of capital expenditure and time taken, there were some significant differences between the two projects, with the second project involving not only refurbishing and restarting existing plant but also upgrading Motunui #1 to virtually “brand new” state.

And the refurbishment and restart of a unit that had laid idle for eight years was a major undertaking for Methanex NZ and the more than 700 contractors and sub-contractors involved.

 New Zealand contractors were engaged and local fabrication and construction undertaken where economically feasible.

 However, some complex plant and equipment such as a new deaerator, a device used for the removal of oxygen and other dissolved gases from the feed water to steam-generating boilers, could not be designed domestically so that work was done overseas.

The deaerator, a large vessel about 20m long, 6m in diameter and weighing about 50 tonnes, was particularly challenging from a technical point of view as it was a new design aimed at having lower noise levels and lower steam consumption than its predecessor.

Below: Deaerator - courtesy of Fitzroy Engineering

The rebuild of the reformer, involving the replacement of reformer tubes, new catalyst, and some hot water piping, was also another significant part of the project.

As well as extensive planning and preparation, there was much scaffolding and insulation work, and the inspection, cleaning and repairing of over 55 major vessels and heat exchangers to ensure they were ready for service.

Although the deaerator was designed overseas, Fitzroy Engineering Group Ltd won the contract for the procurement, fabrication and installation of that critical part of the project. FEGL owner Dialog Group Berhad (Dialog) of Malaysia was also involved in the restart.

 Among the myriad of other Taranaki companies involved were Vickers Insulation, Transpacific, Forman Insulation, Stork Cooperheat, ITL, Pace Engineering, Energyworks, Core Group, TBS Coatings, and Cunningham Construction.

 Though the second restart was similar to that of Motunui #2, tight delivery schedules and long lead times for some materials meant local contractors putting in extra effort and resources to minimise or overcome delays often caused by others in the supply chain.

And the decision by Methanex NZ to briefly shut Motunui #2 about the same time as scheduled shutdowns of the near-shore Pohokura gas field and the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Kapuni ammonia urea plant posed some additional problems that needed to be overcome.

 The Motunui #1 restart was only was possible because Methanex NZ has signed a 10-year gas supply contract with Todd Energy, ensuring enough extra gas to run the second train and underpinning higher methanol production levels.

 The gas supply agreement also provides a likely long-term future for the Canadian Methanex Corporation in New Zealand, probably until at least the mid-2020s. 

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