Increasingly, methanol is being employed around the globe in a number of innovative applications to meet our growing demand for energy. Methanol is a clean energy option that can be produced from natural gas, coal and a number of renewable resources including biomass, landfill gas and power plant or industrial emissions.
Methanol’s characteristics as a liquid fuel at room temperature and the diverse sources from which methanol can be manufactured, make it an attractive alternative fuel for cars, trucks and buses. Methanol is also used as an input to the biodiesel production process, as well as a feedstock for the production of dimethyl ether, a clean burning liquid gas used primarily for cooking and heating applications, but also a suitable replacement for diesel fuel. In addition, methanol is a unique resource for use in on-grid and off-grid power turbines for electricity production, and an ideal hydrogen carrier for fuel cell technology applications including portable power.
This simple molecule packed with hydrogen and no carbon-to-carbon bonds burns cleaner than most energy sources and provides a viable, readily available alternative to traditional fossil fuels. As demand for alternative energy and fuels grows, methanol is positioned to provide the power needed for numerous applications in our daily lives.
Methanol is an important global transportation fuel, used as a clean–burning fuel in existing cars, trucks, and buses. Today, China leads the world in using methanol as a fuel, with methanol representing 7% of China’s total transportation fuel pool. Over the past few years, 470,000 taxis, trucks and buses have been converted to run on “high proportion” methanol fuels in China, including neat methanol (M100) and M85, a blend of 85% methanol and 15% gasoline. Much of the passenger car fleet in China is fueled with M15 – a blend of 15% methanol and 85% gasoline – that is sold at retail fueling stations. In Europe, up to 3% methanol is allowed in gasoline, and we see niche market blending in several countries. Methanol fuel demonstration programs are also underway in Australia, Egypt, Iceland and Israel.
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 disel.
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.
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.
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
Methanol is an attractive emerging fuel for electricity generation. During times of great electricity demand such as hot summer days, turbine engines are often used as “peak generators” to bolster the electric grid’s capacity. Methanol had been demonstrated to be a viable replacement to oil as a fuel for these crucial backup generators, as well as a more environmentally friendly way of improving their performance.
MI and its sister Chinese trade associations are working on developing standards for the safe and efficient growing use of methanol in industrial boilers. In many developing countries, the use of biomass, wood, etc. for cooking generates significant air pollution and is a health hazard. Limited natural gas pipeline and liquified petroleum gas (LPG)/propane availability for cooking in China has also created a high demand for clean-burning, safe, affordable energy sources. The wide availability of methanol-fueled cookstoves in China – ranging from mini hotpots to industrial stoves – has transformed the country’s food services industries. More than three MMT of methanol are consumed annually via cookstoves in home, restaurants, and commercial kitchens.