The LTLPMeOH Process
"Low Temperature Low Pressure Methanol"
As one can see, the evolution of the process is rapidly gaining more initials. In this case, they can stand for either Low Temperature Low Pressure Methanol or Low Temperature Liquid Process Methanol. A more complete acronym would be LTLPLPMeOH. We just call it the Mahajan Process in recognition of the inventor, Dr. Mahajan.
An Initial Look
The LPMeOH process was invented in the 1970's, but the high temperatures and pressures required caused people to keep looking for simpler routes. In the 1990's, low-temperature and low-pressure methods of synthesizing methanol were developed, but they relied on tetracarbonyl nickel as a catalyst.
Because of the mortal dangers associated with smelting the metal, it was originally known as "kupfernickel" which translates as "the Devil's copper." Today, the common name for Ni(CO)4 is "liquid death" and it has the distinction of being the most toxic compound encountered in industrial processes. 
Fortunately, about a decade ago, Dr. Devinder Mahajan of the Brookhaven National Laboratory discovered a way to produce methanol from syngas that,
That last bit is especially important to the B2M Project because a fundamental project criteria is that only environmentally benign materials be used. As Amory Lovins has noted, the goal is to find ways to do our work without working our undoing.
- initiates at room temperature,
- operates at low pressure (70 psi),
- delivers high efficiency (=> 90%),
- is tolerant of CO2 and H2O contamination. and
- does not use a nickel catalyst.
As a general rule, B2M is focused on using materials that are either officially classified as food grade (e.g. mineral oil, polyethylene glycol, glycerine, etc.), or which are already widely familiar within the context of a traditional family farm of a century ago (e.g., lye, wood ashes, steel wool, hydraulic fluid, copper wire, etc.).
Further examples would be the catalyst for the LPMeOH reaction (a mixture of copper and zinc readily available in the form of pennies), and the primary catalyst for the Mahajan reaction (potassium hydroxide) which can be readily extracted from wood ash.
The LPMeOH process offered substantial improvements over the traditional methanol synthesis route. For example, by grinding up the catalyst and suspending it in a slurry, the LPMeOH process offered a way to deliver fresh catalyst into the reactor without having to shut it down, open a hatch and having a person actually climb inside the reactor.
The development of the catalyst slurry concept was a huge step forward, but the Mahajan process goes a few steps further. Both are liquid process reactions, but while the LPMeOH catalyst is a solid suspended in a heat transfer fluid ("HTF"), the Mahajan catalysts are soluble in the HTF, thereby eliminating a range of practical problems such as the slurry settling into a cake in the bottom of the reactor when it's not running.
In the LPMeOH process, syngas is bubbled up through mineral oil which serves as the reaction's internal HTF; in the Mahajan process, methanol serves as both the reaction's HTF and the solvent for the catalysts.
Even better, the primary catalyst is the product of reacting methanol with potassium hydroxide (KOH) to form the very same potassium methoxate (KOCH3) that is key to converting organic oils into bio-diesel. The village scale production of biodiesel is already well established, and serves as good training for preparing to take on the challenges of converting biomass into methanol.
Another quality that makes the Mahajan process ideal for B2M is it's self-heating nature. While a reaction temperature of 100°C is the goal, the reaction will self-initiate at room temperature and, in effect, heat itself up.
In Greater Detail
Click Here to view US Patent Application 2003/0158270.