Methanol is also known as “wood alcohol”. Methanol is produced naturally in the anaerobic metabolism of many varieties of bacteria. As a result, there is a small fraction of methanol vapour in the atmosphere. And methanol has its uses as a petrol substitute or “biofuel”.
Currently, methanol is generally produced using methane gas, but it can also be produced by pyrolosis of many organic materials or by Fischer Tropsch from synthetic gas. The production of synthetic methanol can be performed at efficiencies of up to 75%. This has a potential to offer methanol fuel at a low cost and with great benefits to the environment.
Both methanol and ethanol burn at lower temperatures than gasoline and both are less volatile, making engine starting in cold weather a bit more difficult. When methanol has been used as a fuel in combustion engines, it can offer an increased thermal efficiency and an increased power output compared with petrol due to its high octane rating and high heat of vaporisation.
One of the downsides to using methanol is that the substance can be quite corrosive to engine parts, in particular the fuel system.
Biofuels are certainly the way of the future. The sooner car manufacturers, like Saab (who have produced a vehicle designed to run on a biofuel equivalent, hook into this wealth of opportunity, the better off the environment will be. We hope that helps answer the question ‘What is What is Methanol?’!
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