Methanol as a motor fuel

Oct 05, 2005 02:00 AM

by J.R.D. McCormick

Methanol is a clean-burning, high octane, liquid fuel. These are facts not subject to argument or dispute. Race car drivers have been using methanol as a high performance fuel in automobile engines.
Arguments have been offered in rebuttal of this. California carried out an extensive investigation of this substitution and persuaded automakers to turn out experimental models that incorporated the small modifications to minimize any problems that had arisen in the use of neat methanol. Additionally, up to 85, % of the gasoline in a blend was replaceable by methanol without major problems.

Methanol is already manufactured on a large scale. Methanol is currently manufactured, primarily from natural gas, on a scale that amounts to about 2 % of gasoline volume. Further scale-up would involve no new technology. Since the cost of natural gas is closely linked to the price of crude oil, future production of methanol will be from coal, by way of "clean coal" technology. Domestic coal supplies are estimated to suffice for a least a century, unlike crude oil, where diminishing supplies are already resulting in major price increases.
Methanol is cheaply made from natural gas but can be made from any carbon-containing organic matter -- coal, crude oil, wood, domestic waste, biomass (e.g., agricultural waste or energy farms), peat, oil, shale, etc.

The manufacture of methanol is independent of foreign oil sources. This is important. Distribution and dispensing of methanol is essentially identical to the system presently used for gasoline. As a liquid fuel, methanol can be handled in exactly the same manner as is currently used for gasoline. No new type distribution or dispensing system would be required to adopt it.
Methanol is environmentally safer than gasoline. Although methanol is toxic to drink, it represents no more hazard in that respect than gasoline. In the open environment, methanol is less hazardous because unlike gasoline, it is rapidly biodegradable.

Even a disaster like the Valdez oil tanker break-up in Alaskan waters would have had a much lesser environmental impact if the fuel had been methanol. Rapid dilution and biodegradation would rapidly have eliminated the hazard whereas the crude oil spill still has its adverse environmental effects even after the passage of years.
Methanol has been readily available and has been used for decades as dry gas, an auto gas-line antifreeze. No epidemic of methanol poisoning has been noted from this. Unlike electricity or hydrogen, methanol can be stockpiled in tanks exactly as for gasoline.

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