7 Jun 2014 More

Methanol as Gasoline Substitute Unlikely

posted by Brown Books @ 09:17 0 Comments

Image of methanol tanksThere was bad news for those who believe using methanol from natural gas might be a viable substitute for gasoline.  The idea got a less than warm reception from one federal government official who said he believes the plan is unlikely to be adopted for wide use in cars and trucks.

Patrick Davis, director of the Energy Department’s Vehicles Technologies Office, says that proponents of the more greenhouse friendly fuel face steep obstacles in their path.   “There’s a lot of choices out there and they’re all vying for a fairly limited market,” said Davis. “It is going to be a fight for any fuel to succeed.”

Advocates for replacement solutions stress that any substitutes for petroleum could help cut not just greenhouse emissions but foreign imports as well.  John Hofmeister, founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy and president of Shell Oil, is currently opening up a dialogue for the increased use of methanol, but logistically speaking it just seems to be an idea before its time.

The environmentally friendly substance is already very popular with energy companies, this from John Floren, CEO of Methanex, the world’s largest supplier.  Methanex has already torn down two factories in Chile and has plans to reassemble them in Louisiana.  ‘We expect a lot of new plants to be built here in the US,’’ says Floren.

Because of new technologies in hydraulic fracturing, natural gas production in the US has increased by 35 percent since 2005.

On a global scale

Worldwide, methanol plants produce an estimated 100 million metric tons every day.  The substance is used in everything from feedstock to transport fuel.  But switching over more than 100 million cars and trucks to the fuel would be a Herculean task.

Already, metropolitan areas like Los Angeles run their buses on natural gas.  UPS just announced it would be switching over to propane for its new fleet.  But these vehicles all fuel-up at designated refueling stations.   As a 100 percent alternative to gasoline, switching over all of America’s gas station is another matter altogether.

New laws would have to be passed just to get automakers to manufacture vehicles that run on methanol, and that’s no easy task either.

“Methanol matters for the same reason that ethanol matters, which is it’s an alternative to oil,” says Hofmeister. “It would help if people on the hill understood the value to the consumer and the importance in the fuel mix.”

As a fuel mix, that would mean beating back the powerful lobby.  Corn subsidies are the power behind ethanol and methanol would need its champion on Capitol Hill as well.  Already producers of ethanol outspend those of methanol 50 to 1 in Washington.

“There are lots of competitors out there,” Davis said. “It’s not at all completely clear that methanol has the suit of attributes that would favor it as a winner.”

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by Philip Loyd, Brown Editor

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