Methanol (CH3OH), also known as wood alcohol, is an alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act of 1992. As an engine fuel, methanol has chemical and physical fuel properties similar to ethanol. Methanol use in vehicles has declined dramatically since the early 1990s, and automakers no longer manufacture methanol vehicles.
Methanol is methane with one hydrogen molecule replaced by a hydroxyl radical (OH). This fuel is generally produced by steam-reforming natural gas to create a synthesis gas. Feeding this synthesis gas into a reactor with a catalyst produces methanol and water vapor. Various feedstocks can produce methanol, but natural gas is currently the most economical.
Methanol can be an alternative to conventional transportation fuels. The benefits of methanol include:
- Lower Production Costs—Methanol is cheap to produce relative to other alternative fuels.
- Improved Safety—Methanol has a lower risk of flammability compared to gasoline.
- Increased Energy Security—Methanol can be manufactured from a variety of carbon-based feedstocks, such as coal. Its use could also help reduce U.S. dependence on imported petroleum.
Research and Development
Methanol was marketed in the 1990s as an alternative fuel for compatible vehicles. At its peak, nearly 6 million gasoline gallon equivalents of 100% methanol and 85% methanol/15% gasoline blends were used annually in alternative fuel vehicles in the United States.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is researching the future of natural gas as a feedstock to enable more widespread adoption of methanol as a transportation fuel.
Learn more about methanol from the links below. The AFDC and U.S. Department of Energy do not necessarily recommend or endorse these companies (see disclaimer).
- Clean Alternative Fuels: Methanol
- Methanol as an alternative transportation fuel in the US: Options for sustainable and/or energy-secure transportation
- Methanol Institute