Applications for Methanol

Methanol is one of the most versatile compounds developed and is the basis for hundreds of chemicals, thousands of products that touch our daily lives, and is second in the world in amount shipped and transported around the globe every year.  A truly global commodity, methanol is a key component of modern life and new applications are paving the way forward to innovation.

Applications for Pure Methanol

While numerous applictions transform methanol into vital products and commodities that drive modern life, methanol is also used on its own in a number of applications.

Transportation Fuel - Methanol is the most basic alcohol.  It is easy to transport, readily available, and has a high octane rating that allows for superior vehicle performance compared to gasoline.  Many countries have adopted or are seeking to expand methanol fueling programs, and it is the fastest growing segment of the methanol marketplace today.  This is driven in large part by methanol's low price compared to gasoline or ethanol, and the very small incremental cost to modify current vehicles to run on blends of methanol fuel.  Methanol also produces much less toxic emissions than reformulated gasoline, with less particulate matter and smog forming emissions.  Find out more in our Methanol Fuel section.

Wastewater Denitrification - Methanol is also used by municipal and private wastewater treatment facilities to aid in the removal of nitrogen from effluent streams.  As wastewater is collected in a treatment facility, it contains high levels of ammonia. Through a bacterial degradation process this ammonia is converted into nitrate. If discharged into the environment, the nutrient rich nitrate in sewage effluent can have a devastating effect on water ecosystems - creating miles long algae blooms that sap oxygen and sunlight from aquatic life.  Methanol, which quickly biodegrades, is a cost-effective way to help revitalize waterways tainted by the effects of nitrates. Find out more in the Wastewater Treatment section of our site.

Fuel Cell Hydrogen Carrier - Methanol is used as a key component in the development of different types of fuel cells - which are quickly expanding to play a larger role in our energy economy.  From large-scale fuel cells to power vehicles or provide back-up power to remote equipment, to portable fuel cells for electronics and personal use, methanol is an ideal hydrogen carrier.  With a chemical formula of CH3OH, has more hydrogen atoms in each gallon than any other liquid that is stable in normal conditions. You can find more ifnormation on our Fuel Cells page.

Biodiesel Transesterification - 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. More resources regarding biodiesel are available on our Transportation Fuel page.

Electricity Generation - Different companies are also exploring the use of methanol to drive turbines to create electricity. There are a number of projects currently underway that are using methanol as the fuel source to create steam to drive turbines - which is an excellent option for areas rich in resources other than traditional electricity sources.You can learn more about these applications on our Turbines and Electricity page.

Chemical Feedstock

Methanol is a key component of hundreds of chemicals that are integral parts of our daily lives. Methanol is most often converted into formaldehyde, acetic acid and olefins - all basic chemical building blocks for a number of common products. There are a number of products that are developed from these materials, too many to list all on this page, but needless to say methanol is all around us and is a critical component of modern life.

Here are just some types of materials that are made from methanol:
  • Plastics
  • Synthetic fibers
  • Paints
  • Resins
  • Magnetic film
  • Safety glass laminate
  • Adhesives
  • Solvents
  • Carpeting
  • Insulation
  • Refridgerants
  • Windshield washer fluid
  • Particle board
  • Pigments and dyes
There are thousands more products that also touch our daily lives in which methanol is a key component.  This graphic will show you some more common products you will find in your home that have methanol as a primary feedstock.

Methanol to Olefins

The Methanol to Hydrocarbons process was discovered at Mobil Oil in 1977. This process is used to convert methanol to products such as olefins and gasoline. The methanol can first be obtained from coal or natural gas. In the Methanol to Olefins (MTO) process, the methanol is then converted to olefins such as ethylene and propylene. The olefins can be reacted to produce polyolefins, which are used to make many plastic materials.

To learn more about the methanol to olefins process please access the links below.

MTO Process

MTO Synthesis

Methanol-To-Olefins / Olefin-Cracking-Process: An Innovative Process for Making Plastics- Video

Methanol to Olefins (MTO): Development of a Commercial Catalytic Process-PPT

Methanol-To-Olefins (S-MTO) Technology Process- Abstract

Methanol to Olefins/Propylene Technologies in China

Single Event Kinetic Modeling of the Methanol-to-Olefins Process

Methanol to Olefins-Honeywell Company

Olefins Technology-Process Description