Methanol, an industrial chemical that can also be used as fuel, can be made from a wide variety of source materials. Viable feedstocks include agricultural products such as corn, sugarcane and switch grass, as well as other sources such as natural gas, coal, or municipal waste. Methanol can even be produced using carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise contribute to greenhouse gas. As a transportation fuel, methanol has several advantages over gasoline.
Methanol can quickly compete with gasoline in order to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Feedstocks are abundant and readily available in the U.S., methanol can be produced at scale using technology available today, and relatively small changes to existing infrastructure can deliver it to customers at the pump.
- Oil is the only source for gasoline we use today. However, methanol can be produced from an almost endless variety of materials, including natural gas and municipal waste, as well as renewable resources such as biomass.
- Methanol can be most quickly produced at a large scale using abundant U.S. natural gas.
- Methanol from natural gas can be produced close to dispensing centers in large metropolitan areas, reducing the need to transport fuel.
- Methanol can be made from any carbohydrate, including biomass.
Methanol offers certain performance advantages compared to gasoline.
- Methanol has a much higher octane rating than gasoline, allowing blends to raise vehicle performance without other chemical additives.
- Studies have shown that methanol can improve fuel economy compared to gasoline
Human health & safety
Most U.S. citizens live in cities where they are regularly exposed to concentrated vehicle emissions that affect air quality and increase incidence of asthma and other respiratory health ailments as well as cancer. Methanol can not only reduce toxic emissions and decrease particulates, but also decrease the use of carcinogenic gasoline additives and chance of vehicle fires.
- Studies have shown reductions in vehicle emissions, with recent tests finding a complete reduction in carbon monoxide using a blend of 60% methanol with 40% gasoline.
- Using inherently high-octane methanol can eliminate the need for octane boosting, but harmful, aromatic compound additives that replaced lead in gasoline. Commonly known as BTX for benzene, toluene and xylene, these additives promote particulates that lead to human respiratory problems such as bronchitis or asthma. Benzene is itself a carcinogen.
- Methanol burns much cooler than gasoline, which could reduce the number of automobile fires.
Petroleum affects the environment at every level of it lifecycle, from drilling to refining to distribution to combustion. On the other hand, even when produced from natural gas that is extracted using common oil drilling methods such as fracking, methanol avoids the end-to-end environmental impacts of gasoline.
- Methanol is naturally biodegradable with a very short half-life. An Exxon-Valdez methanol spill would not have required expensive lawsuits or a “super fund” effort to clean it up.
- Methanol from natural gas can be produced using up to 25% CO2.
- Studies indicate that methanol produced from natural gas is somewhat less greenhouse gas intensive than gasoline produced from conventional oil, and substantially better than high carbon, non-conventional gasoline.
- Oil refining impacts air and water quality, produces toxic solids and sludge, and is the most energy intensive industry in the U.S. On the other hand, methanol produced from natural gas requires only a simple gasification process that avoids the toxic byproducts of oil refining.
- Although fracking has been primarily associated with natural gas, it was developed and has common use as an oil extracting technology. Its potential to unlock a vast amount of natural gas to help cure our oil addiction cannot be ignored; however, like fracking for oil, careful procedures are necessary to avoid undue harm to freshwater supplies or the environment.
More information about methanol:
- Environmental, Health, and Safety Guidelines
for Petroleum Refining