Thursday, January 24, 2008

methanol fuel

Methanol is known as the stuff that makes you blind when you drink it (instead of its next door neighbour ethanol, which is less toxic), but it is little known that it is quite useful as a fuel for cars. Some motor racing competitions, such as the Champ Car circuit in the US have used methanol for decades (mainly for safety reasons, as it doesn't produce black fumes when it burns in an accident, and doesn't explode quite as easily as petrol).

Industry makes methanol from CO and H2 on the tonnes scale, but it would be really useful if methane, which sometimes turns up as an unwanted byproduct (of oil production, landfill sites, cow's digestion!) that is just released or flared off, could be converted into methanol. So far, this reaction required a multi-step process with high temperatures and pressures, but researchers in Japan have now proposed a simpler way using fuel cells. Read my story here.

Oh, and way back in the 70s, my dad used to have a methanol-fuelled VW Golf as a company car -- his company used to make 800 tonnes of the stuff per day, he tells me.

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