Leslie Bromberg of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center and Wai K. Cheng of the Sloan Automotive Laboratory authored a white paper assessing the prospects for methanol as an alternative transportation fuel in the U.S.

The pair states that methanol is a safe and viable transportation fuel, although it not as good as ethanol in terms of energy density and ease of handling.  There are no technical hurdles either in terms of vehicle application or of distribution infrastructure.

Compared Costs of Gasoline E-85 and Methanol. Click image for more info.

The paper is quite a long read, a downloadable pdf running 81 pages. The paper covers methanol’s history, experiences in other countries especially China and the EU as well as the U.S.  Then the authors dive into production and the primary processes for production focusing on using coal, natural gas and biomatter.

A major part of the paper looks into the feasibility of biomatter using 13 pages to cover the topic from resources, capital investment on to the other main component, water.  A brief section reviews the physical and chemical properties with brief emissions environmental and health impacts sections following.

Of concern to many are the handling and safety issues about methanol.  The paper does tend to suggest that methanol would be another extender for primarily gasoline and to some extent diesel and sees the issues in that light removing some major concerns.

To close the paper up there is a look into problems that methanol use might pose for end users.

The finale might be a good reward for getting through a lot, and quite worthwhile preamble this is where vehicle performance, blending strategies and vehicle fuel system modification are discussed.  The end looks at distribution, infrastructure, the jobs a methanol industry might create and how consumers might look at a methanol fuel extension.

The paper has been downloaded here and this writer is suggesting you do as well.  This is a fine reference work that’s in plain English that authoritatively discusses methanol without noticeable inputs from the defamation that will surely come if a serious methanol push is to come.

And it should come.  Methanol poses no technical hurdles for research to get to fuel products. None. For combustion methanol offers high octane enabling high compression and good thermal conversion.  Properly designed engines can equal diesel in efficiency.

Coming up with lots of it, really a lot is only a matter of capital investment from three sources of increasing capital cost per unit – coal, natural gas and biomass.  That also means that coal to methanol is very quick, natural gas to methanol about as quick and biomatter slower and more costly – but fully renewable.

Add to that methanol is already commercially viable for fuel cell use.  The authors downplay the Direct Methanol Fuel Cell, yet what works tends to show up in the market place sooner than expected.  Progress in fuel cells is coming.

On the other hand, to compete with gasoline or diesel at the today’s prices, methanol’s lower energy density demands a price below $1.50 per U.S. gallon.

The blend section touches without great effect on mixes like methanol, ethanol and gasoline.  What needs considered for a careful vehicle purchase is to be certain a choice has flex fuel capability beyond ethanol including methanol and very likely propanol and butanol plus others when better understanding arrives.

The U.S. society and leadership isn’t close at all to encouraging the vehicle manufacturers to be certain that a maximum range of fuel blends would work well in a vehicle.  As it stands today increases in thermal efficiencies are fully adoptable for blends minimally, at ethanol of 10%, 15% imminent and up 85% practical reality with blend pumps at the refueling point.  Realistically, transport fuel blends are going to be regionally different and a truly long-distance vehicle is going to need to be adaptable.

To repeat, the paper is well worth a download and saving for future reference.  Considerable thanks are due the authors for their work and honest coverage of the most relevant facts about methanol at the beginning of 2011.  The work misses delivering opinion and is primarily a discussion presenting information in a condensed and organized way.

The main unanswered question remains, who is going to get methanol, a huge national and world resource underway for supplying fuel needs in the future?  That question will be one to haunt those who live into the future.


5 Comments so far

  1. willG on January 24, 2011 11:03 AM

    with all of these products made from diminishing inputs the problems come along later when inputs get short. We should be concentrating on things which do not diminish. With ethanol or methanol or anything bio, the more you make starts to use up inputs and at that point prices go up. Instead with GreenNH3 or GreenGas.cc the more you use the price goes down. Time investors and governments stop listening to BigOil and get into these techs which will make us truly self sufficient.

  2. Countries With Nuclear Weapons on January 24, 2011 11:51 AM

    […] The splitting of an atom releases energy in the forms of both heat and light. Atomic power plants control the fission reactions so that they don’t result in the devastating explosions that are brought forth in atomic and hydrogen bombs. There is no chance of an atomic power plant exploding like a nuclear bomb, as the specialized conditions and the pure Plutonium used to unleash Related to this you can read: https://newenergyandfuel.com/http:/newenergyandfuel/com/2011/01/24/can-methanol-get-back-in-the-alt-f… […]

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  4. World Spinner on January 25, 2011 5:25 AM

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    Can Methanol Get Back in the Alt Fuel Starting Block?

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