Motunui Synthetic Fuels Plant

Engineering Plant (eg railway, locomotive, car, plane)


Opened in 1986, the Motunui Synthetic Fuels Plant was the world’s finest commercial production facility converting natural gas to synthetic fuels. It is also the world’s largest methanol production facility.

The Synfuel plant takes natural gas from both the offshore Maui, and the onshore Kapuni, gas fields and converts the combined gas feed first to methanol, and then to synthetic gasoline via the Mobil Methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) process. (Click here for more information on the Maui gas field)

The plant produces a premium unleaded gasoline blendstock suitable for use directly in the transport fuels market. The total annual production from the plant is equivalent to about one third of the New Zealand gasoline market. When combined with the production of condensates associated with the offtake of Maui and Kapuni gas, plus the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as a fuel, this has enabled New Zealand to achieve almost 50 per cent self sufficiency in petroleum products.

The creation of the Synfuels plant has seen a significant shift from the situation in the early 1980s when New Zealand was 85 per cent dependent on foreign oil. Therefore, the Synfuel plant plays an essential part in supply the New Zealand petroleum market, contributing directly to reducing New Zealand’s vulnerability to uncertainly in supplies of imported crude oil.

Operation of the plant represents the successful conclusion of a major engineering task and the demonstration of a first-of-a-kind application of zeolite catalyst technology. The project is also notable becasue it demonstrates the application of engineering design methods to reduce the environmental impact of noise.

The Synfuels plant was also the first to apply seismic design in accordance with recommended criteria laid down for petrochemical plant, which includes continuous dewatering of a saturated sub-strata sand layer to reduce the likelihood of site liquefaction under a severe earthquake.

The plant's modular construction techniques required specialist shipping and transportation methods, including New Zealand’s largest ever movement by road transport. Finally, the non-conventional operating regimes within the methanol plant involve complex computer plant simulations and specialist process engineering expertise, and represent an engineering acheivement.

The construction and ongoing operation of the Synfuel plant received international and national  engineering  interest,  and bought into focus the competency and capability of New Zealand’s engineering resources as a result of the project being completed within budget and on schedule.

Owner: Methanex New Zealand
Designer: Davey McKee Corp, Foster Wheeler Energy Corp, Works Corp
Constructor: Bechtel Petroleum Inc & New Zealand subcontractors.

Heritage recognition
IPENZ “Engineering to 1990” project
This item of New Zealand’s engineering heritage was recognised as part of the IPENZ “Engineering to 1990” project which the Institution organised to help celebrate the country’s sesquicentenary in 1990. A plaque was unveiled to mark the significance of this synthetic fuels plant as part of the development of the nation.


No Attachments


Motunui, 20 kilometres north of New Plymouth on Main North Road/State Highway 3


Access Info
The visitor information centre at the plant is open daily

Nature of Engineering
Manufacturing and Industrial Processing


Synfuel Gas to Gasoline Plant. Image from 'IPENZ Engineering to 1990,' p.25

(Click image to enlarge )

Lat: -38.9938 Long: 174.2841