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Methanol 101: What is it?

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Methanol (methyl alcohol) is an alternative fuel made from woody plant fiber, coal or natural gas; it is used primarily as a supplement to gasoline. It can be harvested from the methane gas in landfills in addition to fermented waste products such as sewage and manure.

Pure methanol is not sold as a stand-alone motor fuel, although in its pure form it is commonly used as racing fuel. As a motor fuel for general transportation it is mixed with gasoline to produce M85 (85% methanol and 15% gasoline). It is also the primary alcohol used to mix biodiesel.

Pros: A Yes Vote

  • It offers lower exhaust emissions and higher vehicle performance.
  • It can easily be made into hydrogen, offering a promising future for use in methanol direct fuels cells.
  • Methanol has a lower risk of flammability than gasoline.

Cons: What to be Aware of

  • High amount of formaldehyde in emissions.
  • It has a 50 percent energy ratio: that means it produces half of the power content of gasoline.
  • Highly corrosive: Methanol tends to deteriorate non-synthetic and natural rubber fuel system parts.

Handling & Safety

In its pure state, it burns with an invisible flame. However, when it is mixed with gasoline as in M85, it burns with a noticeable color. It's more corrosive than gasoline, but less toxic.

Potential

The future looks cloudy. Even in blends methanol is not readily available, and a wide-spread distribution network is not planned—ethanol is gaining more favor.

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