Methanol fuel: Wikis


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Methanol is an alternate fuel for internal combustion and other engines, either in combination with gasoline or directly ("neat"). It is used in racing cars and in China. Methanol fuel has received less attention than ethanol fuel as an alternative to petroleum based fuels. It may be made from fossil or renewable resources.


History and production

Historically, methanol was first produced by destructive distillation (pyrolysis) of wood, resulting in its common English name of wood alcohol.

Presently, methanol is usually produced using methane (the chief constituent of natural gas) as a raw material. Methanol is made from coal in China for fuel.

"Biomethanol" may be produced by gasification of organic materials to synthesis gas followed by conventional methanol synthesis. Production of methanol from synthesis gas using Biomass-To-Liquid can offer methanol production from biomass at efficiencies up to 75%. Widespread production by this route has a postulated potential (see Hagen, SABD & Olah references below) to offer methanol fuel at a low cost and with benefits to the environment. These production methods, however, are not suitable for small scale production.

Major fuel use

During the OPEC 1973 oil crisis, Reed and Lerner (1973) proposed methanol from coal as a proven fuel with well established manufacturing technology and sufficient resources to replace gasoline.[1] Hagen (1976) reviewed prospects for synthesizing methanol from renewable resources and its use as a fuel.[2] Then in 1986, the Swedish Motor Fuel Technology Co. (SBAD) extensively reviewed the use of alcohols and alcohol blends as motor fuels.[3] It reviewed the potential for methanol production from natural gas, very heavy oils, bituminous shales, coals, peat and biomass. In 2005, 2006 Nobel prize winner George A. Olah and colleagues advocated an entire methanol economy based on energy storage in synthetically produced methanol.[4], [5] The Methanol Institute, the methanol trade industry organization, posts reports and presentations on methanol. Director Gregory Dolan presented the 2008 global methanol fuel industry in China.[6]

Use as internal combustion engine fuel

Both methanol and ethanol burn at lower temperatures than gasoline, and both are less volatile, making engine starting in cold weather more difficult. Using methanol as a fuel in spark ignition engines can offer an increased thermal efficiency and increased power output (as compared to gasoline) due to its high octane rating (114[7]) and high heat of vaporisation. However, its low energy content of 19.7 MJ/kg and stoichiometric air fuel ratio of 6.42:1 mean that fuel consumption (on volume or mass basis) will be higher than hydrocarbon fuels. The extra water produced also makes the charge rather wet (similar to hydrogen/oxygen combustion engines)and combined with the formation of acidic products during combustion, the wearing of valves, valveseats and cylinder might be higher than with hydrocarbon burning. Certain additives may be added to motor oil in order to neutralize these acids.

Methanol, just like ethanol, contains soluble and insoluble contaminents [8]. These soluble contaminants, halide ions such as chloride ions, have a large effect on the corrosivity of alcohol fuels. Halide ions increase corrosion in two ways; they chemically attack passivating oxide films on several metals causing pitting corrosion, and they increase the conductivity of the fuel. Increased electrical conductivity promotes electric, galvanic, and ordinary corrosion in the fuel system. Soluble contaminents, such as aluminum hydroxide, itself a product of corrosion by halide ions, clog the fuel system over time.

Methanol is hygroscopic, meaning it will absorb water vapor directly from the atmosphere.[1] Because absorbed water dilutes the fuel value of the methanol (although, it suppresses engine knock), and may cause phase separation of methanol-gasoline blends, containers of methanol fuels must be kept tightly sealed.


Methanol is poisonous; ingestion of only 10 ml can cause blindness and 60-100 ml can be fatal, [2] and it doesn't have to be swallowed to be dangerous since the liquid can be absorbed through the skin, and the vapors through the lungs. US maximum allowed exposure in air (40 h/week) is 1900 mg/m³ for ethanol, 900 mg/m³ for gasoline, and 1260 mg/m³ for methanol. However, it is less volatile than gasoline, and therefore decreases evaporative emissions. Use of methanol, like ethanol, significantly reduces the emissions of certain hydrocarbon-related toxins such as benzene and 1,3 butadiene. But as gasoline and ethanol are already quite toxic, safety protocol is the same.


Since methanol vapour is heavier than air, it will linger close to the ground or in a pit unless there is good ventilation, and if the concentration of methanol is above 6.7% in air it can be lit by a spark, and will explode above 54 F / 12 C. Once ablaze, the flames give out very little light making it very hard to see the fire or even estimate its size, especially in bright daylight. If you are unlucky enough to be exposed to the poisonous substance through your respiratory system, its pungent odor should give you some warning of its presence. However, it is difficult to smell methanol in the air at less than 2,000 ppm (0.2%), and it can be dangerous at lower concentrations than that.

Use in racing

Beginning in 1965, pure methanol was used widespread in USAC Indy car competition, which at the time included the Indianapolis 500.

A seven-car crash on the second lap of the 1964 Indianapolis 500 resulted in USAC's decision to encourage, and later mandate, the use of methanol. Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald died in the crash when their gasoline-fueled cars exploded. The gasoline-triggered fire created a dangerous cloud of thick black smoke, which completely blocked the view of the track for oncoming cars. Johnny Rutherford, one of the other drivers involved, drove a methanol-fueled car which also leaked following the crash. While this car burned from the impact of the first fireball, it formed a much lesser inferno than the gasoline cars, and one that burned invisibly. That testimony, and pressure from Indianapolis Star writer George Moore, led to the switch to alcohol fuel in 1965.

Methanol was used by the CART circuit during its entire campaign (1979-2007). It is also used by and many short track organizations, especially midget, sprint cars and speedway bikes. Pure methanol was used by the IRL from 1996-2006.

In 2006, in partnership with the ethanol industry, the IRL used a mixture of 10% ethanol and 90% methanol as its fuel. Starting in 2007, the IRL switched to "pure" ethanol, E100.[9]

Methanol fuel is also used extensively in drag racing, primarily in the Top Alcohol category.

Formula One racing continues to use gasoline as its fuel, but in pre war grand prix racing methanol was often used in the fuel.

Methonal is also used in Monster Truck racing.

Methanol fuel by country


United States

The State of California ran an experimental program from 1980 to 1990 which allowed anyone to convert a gasoline vehicle to 85% methanol with 15% additives of choice. Over 500 vehicles were converted to high compression and dedicated use of the 85/15 methanol and ethanol, with great results. Detroit was not willing to produce any methanol or ethanol vehicles without government subsidy.

In 1982 the big three were each given $5,000,000 for design and contracts for 5,000 vehicles to be bought by the State. That was the beginning of the low compression flexible-fuel vehicles which we can still buy today.

In 2005, California's Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, terminated the use of methanol after 25 years and 200,000,000 miles of success, to join the expanding use of ethanol driven by producers of corn. In spite of this, he was optimistic about the future of the program, claiming "it will be back." Ethanol is currently (as of 2007) priced at 3 to 4 dollars per gallon, while methanol made from natural gas remains at 47 cents per gallon.

Presently there are over 60 operating gas stations in California supplying methanol in their pumps. Rep. Eliot Engel [D-NY17] has introduced "An Open Fuel Standard" Act in Congress: "To require automobile manufacturers to ensure that not less than 80 percent of the automobiles manufactured or sold in the United States by each such manufacturer to operate on fuel mixtures containing 85 percent ethanol, 85 percent methanol, or biodiesel."[10]


A drive to add a significant percentage of methanol to gasoline got very close to implementation in Brazil, following a pilot test set up by a group of scientists involving blending gasoline with methanol between 1989 and 1992. The larger-scale pilot experiment that was to be conducted in São Paulo was vetoed at the last minute by the city's mayor, out of concern for the health of gas station workers (who are mostly illiterate and could not be expected to follow safety precautions). As of 2006, the idea has not resurfaced.

See also


  1. ^ Reed, Tom B.; Lerner, R.M. (1973-12), "Methanol: A Versatile Fuel for Immediate Use", Science 182 (4119): 1299 – 1304, doi:10.1126/science.182.4119.1299, 
  2. ^ Hagen, David L. (1976-12), Methanol: Its Synthesis, Use as a Fuel, Economics, and Hazards, Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA), NTIS #NP-21727 
  3. ^ Swedish Motor Fuel Technology Co. (1986). Alcohols and alcohol blends as motor fuels, Vol II A & Vol II B. State-of-the-Art” report. Swedish National Board for Technical Development. ISBN 91-7850-156-3. 
  4. ^ George A. Olah (2005). "Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy". Angewandte Chemie International Edition 44 (18): 2636–2639. doi:10.1002/anie.200462121. 
  5. ^ Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy , George A. Olah, Alain Goeppert, G. K. Surya Prakash, Wiley-VCH, 2006
  6. ^ Dolan, Gregory (2008-10-01). "Methanol Fuels: The Time Has Come". Methanol Institute. 
  7. ^ Burton, George; Holman, John; Lazonby, John (2000). Salters Advanced Chemistry: Chemical Storylines (2nd ed.). Heinemann. ISBN 0-435-63119-5
  8. ^ Brinkman, N., Halsall, R., Jorgensen, S.W., & Kirwan, J.E., "The Development Of Improved Fuel Specifications for Methanol (M85) amd Ethanol (Ed85), SAE Technical Paper 940764
  9. ^ More About Ethanol
  10. ^ "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 2009. 

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