Methanol as an Alternative Fuel
Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, can be used as an alternative fuel in flexible fuel vehicles that run on M85 (a blend of 85% methanol and 15% gasoline). Methanol is not commonly used because automakers have begun to focus more on ethanol based flex fuel vehicles.
Methanol is used on a limited basis to fuel internal combustion engines, mainly due to the fact that it is less flammable than gasoline. Methanol blends are the fuel of choice in open wheel racing vehicles like Champcars, as well as "glow-plug" powered, radio controlled model airplanes , cars and trucks. Methanol is also used in Dirt circle track racecars such as Sprint cars, Late Models, "Modifieds", drag racers and mud racers. Methanol is required with supercharged engines such as Top Alcohol Dragsters and, was used in the Indy 500 racing engines thru the 2005 season. Mud racers have mixed methanol with gasoline and nitrous oxide to produce more power than gasoline and nitrous oxide alone.
Methanol has an octane rating of 106, compared to typical gasolines of 85 to 92. Methanol helps to eliminate knocking or "pinging" commonly associated with unleaded fuels, and also alleviates "running on" or "dieseling" when the ignition is switched off. Up to 15 percent methanol can be added to gasoline in current cars, without adjustment of the engine, and with noticeable improvement in exhaust quality, economy and performance.
Between 1966 and 1972, a series of tests were conducted by T.B. Reed and R.M. Lerner and their colleagues at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The testing was conducted on 9 (nine) vintage cars with ratings from 57hp to 335hp and methanol blends from 5 to 30%. A summary* of findings was that (1) fuel economy increased by 5 to 13 percent; (2) carbon monoxide emissions decreased by 14 to 72 percent; (3) exhaust temperatures decreased by 1 to 9 percent; (4) acceleration increased up to 7 percent. The elimination of knocking and of "dieseling" was noted, even on the lowest 5 percent methanol blend that was used in the test.
Gasoline containing 10 percent methanol will absorb 0.1 percent water - ten times as much as gasoline alone. Thus, in a system using the blend continuously, normal amounts of water formed by condensation are carried thru the fuel system and, into the engine - the "dri-gas" effect.
However, in wholesale storage and distribution of gasoline, water is sometimes used to displace gasoline to prevent the possibility of vapor accumulation and explosion. Residues of this water, with normal leakage and condensation in tanks, are easily separated by traps in transferring gasoline. But when 10 percent methanol is present, the water will desorb the methanol in large amounts.
Drivers wishing to try methanol will be faced with a more difficult problem than
cleaning out their fuel system prior to use. That is, the problem of finding
it in the market place. Wholesalers of industrial chemicals and solvents customarily
supply it to regular customers in bulk tank trucks or railroad cars, or in 55-gallon
drums as a minimum. The supply has always been short, because over production
can cause storage problems. So unless you know a regular customer "on allocation," who
may let you have a few gallons, you will be forced to pay a prohibitive price
for the one-gallon tins sold as shellac thinner, stove fuel, "spirit solvent",
or hobbyist racing fuel.*"Improved performance of Internal Combustion Engines Using 5-20% Methanol." R.M. Lerner et al., Lincoln Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Methanol can be used to make methyl tertiary-butyl ether MTBE,
an oxygenate which is blended with gasoline to enhance octane
and create cleaner burning fuel. MTBE production and use has
declined because it has been found to contaminate ground water.
In the future, methanol could possibly be the fuel of choice
for providing the hydrogen necessary to power fuel cell vehicles.
Methanol is used as a fuel, to make formaldehyde and antifreeze.
Methanol is added as a denaturant to ethanol to make it unpalatable
so that it avoids taxes on drinkable alcohol. First discovered
in 1661, Methanol has been used without isolation by peoples
as far back as the Egyptians in their embalming processes. The
name comes from methy, meaning wine, and hyle, meaning trees.