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Methanol is an unusual alcohol. For one thing, it can be used in fuel cells instead of hydrogen. It is also used by homebrewers to make biodiesel. Alternatively, it can be used in internal combustion engines instead of gasoline (see: drag racing). In China, methanol has just been approved by the ministry for standards for use as a motor vehicle fuel. Like ethanol in the U.S., China now permits the chemical to be added to pure gasoline so that it makes up to 85 percent of the mixture. The U.S. has E85, China has M85. It's possible to make methanol from natural gas, wood, and coal. The downside? Methanol is less efficient than either gasoline or ethanol. For example, a car that gets 10 l/100 km (23.5 mpg) using gasoline would get 12.5 l / 100 km (18 mpg) on ethanol and 15 l / 100 km (15.5 mpg) on methanol.

Green Car Advisor notes that one of the first automakers to prepare a powertrain that can burn methanol is Geely, which makes some of the cheapest cars in the world.

[Source: Green Car Advisor]


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  • 34 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Siphoning fuel is common in emergencies (and for theft) among the poor in many countries. Siphoning methanol may cause blindness.
        • 3 Months Ago
        @Doug, class of 79
        • 3 Months Ago
        @mudder

        Well here's your problem:

        "The debate also brought out the casual attitudes that many Brazilian fuel-station attendants have toward sugar-cane alcohol fuel. Frequent Contact With Fuel

        Many work in plastic sandals, splashing fuel on their feet. Others use the fuel to wash their hands or as a home cleaning solvent. Sometimes, underpaid attendants gulp a few shots of fuel as a cheap intoxicant."

        Yeah, probably should do that with methanol or gasoline.

        btw, Harvey Mudd?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Public outcry over the toxicity of methanol scuttled Brazil's experiment with its use in auto fuel.
        http://www.nytimes.com/1989/12/30/world/rio-journal-autos-cry-for-alcohol-france-will-do-its-part.html?pagewanted=all
        • 5 Years Ago
        Interesting. I didn't realize it was safe to ingest gasoline.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Gasoline's toxicity is nothing compared to methanol's.
        • 5 Years Ago
        So if you siphon methanol, spit it out and drink some vodka.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I was wondering what was the purpose of that 120ac outlet in the new Rav4 was all about.
        It's for cooking dinner after I lose my apartment. :)
        • 5 Years Ago

        I've had a bad habit of licking battery terminals ever since I was a kid.

        /not really
        //just a nine volt every now and then, I can quit whenever I want.

        Wait until you've been out shopping, and you come back to find the "housing-challenged" using your PHEV to power their electric cooker, LOL.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Methanol seem easy to do with few feedstock.

      http://www.greencarcongress.com/2009/11/cs3.html
      Lookup MGTOW
      • 5 Years Ago
      Oh my God, Methanol is worse than plutonium!!!!
      PRC is a clear and present danger to the globe ! Why can't we just vote them off?
      Do you really want Chinese methanol spreading into the atmosphere? You know how quickly their vehicle fleet can accumulate. Can you say 1 Million cars on meth?

      and no NHRA uses NITRO- methane.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Methanol is also a potent neurotoxin that causes irreversible damage; it takes as little as 10ml to blind you and 30ml to kill you. Small doses cause headache, lack of coordination, dizziness, and confusion. In case we care about that sort of stuff.

      In the lab, you're always supposed to use a vent hood around methanol. Think anything like that will happen in the real world? Leaking fuel? Cans of gas? Etc?
        rcavaretti
        • 3 Months Ago
        Methanol is a nasty neurological agent. I've got the MSDS right here in front of me in fact. I have to explain to every non-technical new hire that this stuff is not rubbing alcohol and you don't get it on your skin or breath in the fumes. It's a necessary evil here in the lab, it's the only agent that can be trusted to clean very expensive laser optics.
        • 3 Months Ago
        1) Methanol has only been a popular fuel in very specific, controlled venues, such as auto racing.

        2) Methanol is slowly being phased out of use for windshield wiper fluid because of the danger; you'll notice that many brands advertize their low methanol content or that they're methanol free. And when it comes to wipers, we're not talking pure methanol -- methanol as merely a dilutant to water and other ingredients, and only a small amount of it. Yet each year thousands of people in the US are sickened and dozens killed by accidental ingestion of methanol.

        We need *less* toxic energy sources, not more.
        • 3 Months Ago
        Methanol has been popular as an automotive fuel since the mid-1970's. Methanol powered flex-fuel vehicles were available for purchase here in the US during the 1990's.

        It's also a major ingredient in windshield-washing fluid.

        Most people already handle methanol safely. No need to spread the fear here, meme.

      • 5 Years Ago
      Not technically savvy enough to add to the toxicity or energy content threads here but I find it interesting that China seems to be leaning towards Methanol. Could this (China being a huge potential market) drive a defacto standard; Is it possible that automakers will lean towards developing Methanol powered engines rather than Ethanol for cheap cars because of the size of the market for Methanol powered cars?

      Personally, I think the bigger upside for Methanol might be Fuel Cell compatibility; Is this "a" (not necessarily "the") silver bullet for dealing with infrastructure challenges of a "Hydrogen economy"?

      • 5 Years Ago
      Does anyone know how much easier it is to produce methanol than it is to produce butanol? Or shouldn't butanol even be mentioned here?
        • 3 Months Ago
        My dad says butane is a bastard gas.
      • 5 Years Ago
      @Doug, class of 79
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is your queue Carney....

      Misuse of the term "efficient" Sebastian. Methanol has less "energy density". Combustion Efficiency is a measure of how much energy you can get out of it compared only to how much energy is actually in it. For instance, if Methanol didn't burn very well and left a lot of Carbon Monoxide, that would be inefficient.

      Or if Methanol production required more energy than chemically contains, that would be a measure of Production Inefficiency. All fuels are inefficient, but to what degree and compared to what?

      These are the true questions:

      How many Joules of energy is required to produce the amount of Methanol required to go 1 mile in a certain flex-fuel car?

      Now how many Joules to go that same mile in that same car using gasoline? Or now Ethanol?

      Now do the same calculations, but replacing the Energy (Joules) with cost (dollars).
      Then do them again using emissions.

      Combining the answers also depend on what you value most; energy, costs, emissions, safety, sustainability.

      No "one liners" are going to define the benefits and/or disadvantages here fellas. You gotta get up to knees into it to truly understand.
        • 3 Months Ago
        Well said. Obviously when the author said "is less efficient", they meant "has less specific energy content". Obviously.
        • 3 Months Ago
        Yeah, I somehow missed this article. Thanks for the shout-out.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Methanol isn't less efficient any more than Diesel is more efficient. Different fuels have different amounts of energy per unit volume (gallon) than each other. Methanol has half the energy per gallon of gas, which can be an issue. But it isn't necessarily an efficiency issue.

      For the record, I think methanol is a lousy motor vehicle fuel. It's best used in stationary applications where carrying a double-sized fuel tank isn't as much of an issue. I'm not as concerned about the fact that it's poisonous, RC cars use glow fuel all the time, and it's something like 50% methanol.
        • 3 Months Ago
        Methanol in a flex fuel world, would be the bargain fuel - very cheap including on an energy-equivalent basis, but you'd have to fill up more often. If you're willing to put up with that inconvenience, you'll pay less money per unit of distance.

        Since it burns more cleanly, is water soluble and biodegradable, and does not fund Islamist extremism, it is far preferable to petroleum products. And it has a higher octane rating than even premium gasoline.

        Also, methanol is not merely a fuel, but also a feedstock for di methyl ether, which is both an excellent disel fuel (clean, higher cetane than petro-diesel), but is also a feedstock in its own right for the production of plastic.
        • 3 Months Ago
        Yes Carney... methanol is used in the production of biodiesel. About 15% of biodiesel (B100) contains methanol. And that is just the easy to make homemade batches. Industrial producers recover more from the process.
        • 3 Months Ago
        Actually, although diesel fuel DOES have a higher energy content per gallon, that doesn't NOT account for most of the MPG gains.

        Diesel engines ARE inherently more efficient at extracting energy from the fuel. The engine can operate at air-fuel ratios MUCH higher that gasoline engines can while still extracting power. Some newer lean-burn gas engines try the same thing.

        The fuel's energy content is specific. The process of production and the process of combustion are what makes it efficient or not. Just like a wankel rotary engine still uses gasoline, produces more power, but overall uses more fuel and thereby is less efficient.
      • 5 Years Ago
      5 minutes of checking around leads me to believe that ingesting gasoline is a worse than methanol. Also methanol is commonly found in a lot of products already so it seems that as a safety concern shifting from gasoline to methanol wouldn't be a big worry.
        • 3 Months Ago
        Five minutes of checking on where? The Big Book Of Bad Information?

        Methanol has an LD50 of 400mg/kg. Gasoline, 13600mg/kg. I.e., if you weigh ~175lbs, you have a 50% chance of dying if you drink ~30 grams of methanol. To get the same chance of dying from drinking gasoline, you'd have to drink 1.1 kilograms (about 2/5ths of a gallon)
        • 3 Months Ago
        The difference is that there is no antidote to drinking gasoline, whereas ethanol is an effective antidote to methanol.
        • 3 Months Ago
        just the top answers to search questions - nothing definitive - the gasoline ingestion answers seemed scarier than the methanol ingestion answers.

        I think I'd reccomend against drinking either, but you probably know best.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I think if we are going to talk efficiency we should expound upon it so that the rating is validated. How much external energy does it take to get a hold of ethanol versus methanol versus gasoline? For example, we spend a lot of energy and resources simply battling for the latter. Putting in roads, drilling, tearing up the environment, often spilling, etc.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The idiots who think that you can manipulate methanol as safely gazoline don't know what they are talking about. Methanol is a lethal poison, the vapor only can make you blind or poison you. To use methanol as a fuel would require a locking system that would prevent exposure to vapor as well as any access to the reservoir.
        • 3 Months Ago
        Again, methanol has an effective antidote in the form of ethanol, unlike gasoline.

        Also, when spilled, methanol, like all alcohols, but unlike petroleum and its derivatives, is water soluble (this dissolving away to nothing in our vast hydrosphere) and readily biodegrades into harmless compenents.
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