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Northwest Innovation Works plans to export methanol from two plants along the Columbia River starting in 2017. But what is methanol, anyway?

Methanol is also known as “wood alcohol” or “methyl alcohol” and is emitted by local pulp mills. Northwest Innovation would produce it in liquid form by converting natural gas through a series of processes.

The natural gas would be sent to the plants by pipeline and the finished product would be shipped to China in freighters. It does not have to be keep under pressure or at any extreme temperature.

The plants, which would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, would require clean air permits among other regulatory hurdles. The manufacturing process will release steam and trace emissions of carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — and nitrogen oxide, which is emitted by cars, trucks, buses, power plants and off-road equipment, according to the company.

Methanol is biodegradable, noncarcinogenic and evaporates when exposed to air. It also dissolves when mixed with water, according to Northwest Innovation. It is flammable, but can be stored at ambient temperatures and “does not pose the same risk” as petroleum or liquefied natural gas, according to a statement released by the company.

And what if it spills? “Of course, we will have emergency response procedures in place in case prevention technology fails. Although no spill is acceptable, methanol evaporates quickly and biodegrades quickly. It does not pose the same risk as petroleum, LNG (liquefied natural gas) or most other chemicals,” Northwest Innovation states.

In addition, Northwest Innovation Works representatives said that olefin — the product used to make plastics — is also made from petroleum and coal. Using natural gas-derived methanol to create olefin reduces carbon emissions by two-thirds compared to coal, according to the company.

Tony Lystra covers Kelso city government, Cowlitz County government and environmental issues for The Daily News. Reach him at 360-575-6210 or


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