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What is Methanol?

Methanol is a clear liquid chemical that is water soluble and readily biodegradable. Methanol is comprised of four parts hydrogen, one-part oxygen and one-part carbon, and is the simplest member of a group of organic chemicals called alcohols. Today, methanol is most commonly produced on an industrial scale using natural gas as the principal feedstock. Methanol is used to produce other chemical derivatives, which in turn are used to produce thousands of products that touch our daily lives, such as building materials, foams, resins, plastics, paints, polyester and a variety of health and pharmaceutical products. Methanol also is a clean-burning, biodegradable fuel. Increasingly, methanol’s environmental and economic advantages are making it an attractive alternative fuel for powering vehicles and ships, cooking food and heating homes.

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How is Methanol Made?

Methanol can be made from a wide array of feedstocks, making it one of the most flexible chemical commodities and energy sources available today. To make methanol, you first need to create synthesis gas, which is a mixture of CO, CO2 and hydrogen gas. While natural gas is most often used in the global economy, methanol has the distinct advantage of ‘polygeneration’ – as methanol can be made from any resource that can be converted into synthesis gas. Using mature gasification technologies, synthesis gas can be produced from anything that is or ever was a plant. This includes biomass, agricultural and timber waste, municipal solid waste, and a number of other feedstocks.

Synthesis gas can also be produced by combining waste CO2 from manufacturing or power plants with hydrogen produced from the electrolysis of water using renewable electricity.  And methanol can be manufactured from small-scale units producing a few hundred gallons or liters per day, to world-scale, “mega methanol” plants making 1.6 million gallons/6 million liters each day.  Anywhere in the world, there is feedstock and production technology that can be used to make methanol.

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