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Why methanol is not an option to replace gasoline or diesel

Why methanol is not an option to replace gasoline or diesel

Preface. Methanol, or CH₃OH, is primarily used to make chemicals for plastics, paints, and cosmetics. It is made from coal or natural gas. “Green” methanol is made from biomass or biogas from landfills or sewage plants. Or it can be made by combining hydrogen created with renewable electricity and carbon dioxide.

This post excerpts the methanol sections of a U.S. House hearing on alternative fuels. Just a few of the reasons why methanol is not an option are:

  • The California methanol effort was abandoned for many reasons, but especially because methanol was finding its way into water supplies and its toxicity was considered a significant health concern.  At high concentrations it is terribly toxic
  • Methanol reduces gas mileage
  • It is more expensive per energy unit than gas
  • Getting water out of methanol is even harder to do than ethanol, and water corrodes engine hoses and seals, and shortens engine lifetime
  • Pure methanol has safety issues — it burns with an almost invisible flame
  • There are no commercial facilities making methanol now

Shipping company Maersk is looking at using “Green methanol” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb air pollution in ports which can be used as a “drop-in” replacement for oil-based fuels with relatively minor modifications to a ship’s engine and fuel system. It’s also easy to store on board and, unlike batteries or tanks of hydrogen, it doesn’t take away too much space from the cargo hold. But it is extremely expensive to make, and very little is made, less than 1% of what ships would need (Gallucci 2021).

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House 112–159. July 10, 2012. The American energy initiative part 23: A focus on Alternative Fuels and vehicles. House of Representatives. 210 pages.

Tom Tanton Executive Director, American Tradition Institute’ President T2 and Associates

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