I hear a lot about alternative fuels in this line of work; ethanol, biobutanol, vegetable oil, and of course, electricity. Each alternative presents its own set of challenges, but one alternative fuel perhaps deserves more attention; methanol.
A recent study by Leslie Bromberg and Wai K. Cheng took a close look at methanol as a replacement for oil. It isn’t the only study of its kind, as a few years ago some other researchers put together an entire book exploring the “Methanol Economy.” Methanol was first explored as a viable alternative after the ’73 Oil Crisis, but it never really caught on. Methanol is the simplest form of alcohol, and while it can be found in coal, the air, and even wood, these days it is mostly derived from the methane component of natural gas. But unlike say, ethanol, there is no major lobbying effort to use methanol as fuel despite its abundance in American natural gas reserves.
In fact, methanol is regularly used in performance cars and heavy-duty vehicles as something of an octane booster. It burns cleaner and better than gasoline, though it has even less energy than ethanol. Methanol can be created from any organic matter though, and its half-life is much less than that of gas, and it burns cleaner (though you must burn more of it to get the same energy, probably negating any environmental benefit).
There certainly is a case to be made for methanol, though I’d argue it’d be better to blend it with gasoline, much the same way we are blending ethanol, then try to use it as a stand-alone fuel. China mixed in over a billion gallons of methanol fuel into its fuel supplies last year, and it’ll probably out pace that even next year. Sure, modifications to cars are minimal, and since it is a liquid the infrastructure is already in place. But perhaps it’d be better to focus on the alternatives that are already making headway like electricity, hydrogen, and ethanol. Sorry methanol, looks like you missed the bus this time.
Source: Green Car Congress
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to Hemis. You can follow his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout.