Methanol Transportation Fuel

As the most basic alcohol, methanol is a desirable choice as a transportation fuel due to its efficient combustion, ease of distribution and wide availability around the globe.  Methanol is used in transportation in 3 main ways - directly as fuel or blended with gasoline, converted in dimethyl ether (DME) to be used as a diesel replacement, or as a part of the biodiesel production process.  This video shares some information about the use of methanol in transportation.

The Methanol Institute also hosted the Methanol Policy Forum 2012 in Washington DC.  This one-day conference focused on the role of methanol in transportation - and more information is available (including videos of sessions, presentations and our resources page) on our methanol fuel focused conference page.  

Methanol Fuel

Alcohol fuels have been used widely in transportation ever since the invention of the internal combustion engine, and continue to be employed today as an alternative to gasoline derived from oil. When Henry Ford first pioneered the production of automobiles in the United States, he created engines designed to run on either gaoline or alcohol fuels.  It was only with the wide-spread introduction of cheap gasoline that alcohol fuels were tabled in favor of optimzing engines to run on gasoline.

Methanol is an ideal fuel for transportation in large part because of its efficient combustion and low cost compared to all other fuels.  When combusted, reformulated gasoline produces a number of harmful and toxic byproducts that are reduced or eliminated by replacement with methanol. Emissions of unburned carbons and carbon monoxide are much lower when consuming methanol fuel, and methanol also greatly reduces NOx emissions as well.  Methanol also burns with almost no particulate matter - which can lead to respitory problems like asthma.  Emissions from methanol fuel are also less reactive, and create less ground-level ozone and smog.

Methanol is a high octane fuel that enables very efficient and powerful engine performance.  Engines optimized for methanol could provide an energy based efficiency gain of 50% over a standard (port fuel injected, non-turbo) gasoline engine in a light duty vehicle.  The power-producing qualities of methanol are well-known and it is used in several professional and amateur racing sanctioning organizations (e.g., the National Hot Rod Association and the United States Auto Club). 

But you can't simply put pure methanol fuel in your car today.  At high levels, methanol fuel is corrosive to certain materials commonly used in engines and fuel lines.  In order to be able to operate on high-level blends like M-85 (a mixture of 85% methanol and 15% gasoline), small modifcations must be made to an engine to include methanol compatible componenets.  These modifications generally cost less than 0.5% the cost of a new automobile.  Low-level blends of methanol though do not cause adverse effects to a car's engine., and can be used in cars today where the fuel is available without any adverse effect  Methanol is used as a denaturant for ethanol fuel in many countries, and some amounts of methanol are combusted with those blends everyday.

To learn more about methanol as a transportation fuel, visit our Energy Resources section.

Dimethyl Ether (DME)

Dimethyl ether (DME) and bioDME have a number of uses in products and are most commonly used as a replacement for propane in liquid petroleum gas (LPG), but can also be used as a replacement for diesel fuel in transportation.  Diesel fuel contains more energy per gallon that the gasoline that we use in most passenger cars, and where pure methanol would not be able to power a diesel engine as effectively, DME can.

Today, DME is primarily produced by converting hydrocarbons via gasification to synthesis gas (syngas). Synthesis gas is then converted into methanol in the presence of catalyst (usually copper-based), with subsequent methanol dehydration in the presence of a different catalyst (for example, silica-alumina) resulting in the production of DME.

Besides being able to be produced from a number of renewable and sustainable resources, DME also holds advantage over traditional diesel fuel because of its high cetane number - which measures the combustion quality of diesel fuel during compression ignition. By combusting more thoroughly, an engine tailored to run on DME can achieve higher efficiencies, better mileage and emissions reductions.

To learn more about dimethyl ether as a fuel, see our Energy Resources page, our DME FACTsheet and the follwing presentations on DME delivered at the International DME Associations' 2013 DME Alternative Fuel Executive Briefing which took place in Washington, DC, in September 2013:
Introduction to DME, Theo Fleisch, Director, XTL & DME Institute
DME Fundamentals, Rebecca Boudreaux, President, Oberon Fuels
DME on the Road, Susan Alt, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs, Volvo
DME Value Proposition, Christopher Kidder, Executive Director, International DME Association

MI recently held the first European Methanol Policy Forum where key policy officers and industry experts held discussions and conducted workshops. Take a look inside the DME workshop held on the first day of the forum.

LPG Syngergies  Briefing - Francois Bollon, Director, FRMB Consulting
A look at the synergies between LPG and DME, and the industries that support them. Covers how DME service could be leveraged to rapidly develop DME distribution in important markets.

Additional DME information can be accessed using the links below.

About Dimethyl Ether (DME)

Benefits of Dimethyl Ether (DME)

Frequently Asked Questions

Chemical & Molecular Specifications of Dimethyl Ether (DME)

Physical Properties

Dimethyl Ether (DME) Fact Sheet

Dimethyl Ether Synthesis and Conversion to Value-Added Chemicals-Ohio University


Another application for methanol in transportation is its crucial role in the production of environmentally-friendly biodiesel fuel.

In the process of making biodiesel fuel, methanol is used as a key component in a process called transesterification - to put it simply, methanol is used to convert the triglycerides in different types of oils into usable biodiesel fuel. The transesterification process reacts methanol with the triglyceride oils contained in vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled greases, forming fatty acid alkyl esters (biodiesel) and the byproduct glycerin. Biodiesel production continues to grow around the globe, with everything from large-scale commercial operations to smaller, backyard blenders mixing this environmentally-friendly fuel for everyday use in diesel engines.

While other alcohols can be used in the biodiesel process, they create further steps and need more consideration than methanol.  This includes problems with water content and lack of separation of glycerin from the biodiesel that you would not experience with methanol.

To find out more about methanol in Biodiesel, visit our Energy Resources page and our BioDiesel FACTsheet.
or visit our affiliate organization, the National Biodiesel Board ( .

Methanol As Marine Engine Fuel

Currently, methanol is being developed and utilized as a marine fuel. Interest in methanol as a ship fuel is growing in response to international regulatory changes and cost advantages relative to other fuels. Methanol is an alternative which is sulphur free, has low emissions; perhaps three to four times cheaper than marine distillate fuel; and has a higher score on the International Martine Organization (IMO) energy efficiency design index (EEDI)than LNG or diesel. Globally, Methanol is already in widespread production (~60 million tons per annum) for a multitude of chemical and energy applications, and is one of the world’s most widely shipped chemicals.

MI recently held the first European Methanol Policy Forum where key policy officers and industry experts held discussions and conducted workshops. Take a look inside the Methanol Marine Fuels workshop held on the first day of the forum.

Methanol as an Alternative Marine Fuel - Prof. Karin Andersson, Maritime Environment & Energy Systems, Department of Shipping & Marine Technology Chalmers University of Technology

Previous R&D - Bengt RamneFounder, Managing Director, ScandiNAOS AB

Stena Teknik: Strategic View - Per Stefenson, MSc Naval Architect, Marine Standards Advisor, StenaTeknik

Views from a Classification Company - Kim Tanneberger, Lead Specialist, Strategic Research & Technology Policy Group, Lloyds Register 

LeanShips Project - Prof. Sebastian Verhelst, Associate Professor of Internal Combustion Engines, Ghent University


To learn more about methanol as a marine fuel, please access the resources below.

MAN Diesel & Turbo Announced The Development of a New ME-LGI Dual Fuel Engine

Six newbuilds to have methanol burning ME-LGI engines

Marine Methanol

Swedish ship designers create marine

Methanol: the marine fuel of the future European Commission

SPIRETH - Methanol as marine fuel

Methanol as Clean Alternative Marine Fuel Spireth

Canadian Firm Plans Methanol-Powered Tankers

Waterfront Shipping to Commission New Ships Built With Flex-Fuel Engines Methanex

MAN B&W to Power Up Waterfront’s New Methanol Carriers

Methanol to Gasoline (MTG)

High crude oil prices have helped to spur worldwide interest in finding and developing additional sources of transportation fuels. One such consideration is the conversion of carbon containing solids (coal, petroleum coke and biomass) and natural gas into high quality, clean-burning transportation fuel. The most common methods for production of liquids from carbonaceous solids and natural gas start by first converting the feedstock to a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen called synthesis gas (or syngas). This is accomplished by partial oxidation and/or reforming reactions in gasification and reforming units. Syngas can then be converted into hydrocarbons and oxygenates. The most common technologies for converting syngas into liquids incorporate Fischer-Tropsch process or methanol synthesis.

Methanol is used directly as a fuel or fuel additive in significant markets, particularly China. However, methanol is also important as a feedstock for production of gasoline in the so-called methanol to gasoline (MTG) process, which represents a competing technology to the traditional F-T synthesis approach for making gasoline. This has been demonstrated in several locations and is being proposed for new facilities.

Instead of the traditional F-T technology to convert syngas to liquids to be further refined into end products such as gasoline, this process follows a methanol synthesis unit with a methanol to gasoline synthesis process that yields gasoline very close the final fuel specifications, requiring minimal end processing.

 To learn more about the MTG process, please access the resources below.

Conversion of Methanol to Gasoline-Department of Energy

Methanol to Gasoline Commercially Proven Route for Production of Synthetic Gasoline

Production of Clean Gasoline from Coal-Exxon Mobil

The Production of Methanol and Gasoline

MTG-Exxon Mobil