Methanol (CH3OH), also known as wood alcohol, is considered an alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act of 1992. As an engine fuel, methanol has chemical and physical fuel properties similar to ethanol. Methanol use in vehicles has declined dramatically since the early 1990s, and automakers no longer manufacture methanol vehicles in the United States.
This fuel is generally produced by steam-reforming natural gas to create a synthesis gas. Feeding this synthesis gas into a reactor with a catalyst produces methanol and water vapor. Various feedstocks can produce methanol, but natural gas is currently the most economical.
Methanol can be an alternative to conventional transportation fuels. The benefits of methanol include:
Lower production costs—Methanol is cheap to produce relative to other alternative fuels.
Improved safety—Methanol has a lower risk of flammability compared to gasoline.
Increased energy security—Methanol can be manufactured from a variety of carbon-based feedstocks, such as natural gas and coal. Its use could help reduce fuel use while advancing domestic fuels.
Research and Development
Methanol was marketed in the 1990s as an alternative fuel for compatible vehicles. At its peak, nearly 6 million gasoline gallon equivalents of 100% methanol and blends of 85% methanol and 15% gasoline were used annually in alternative fuel vehicles in the United States.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology researched the future of natural gas as a feedstock to enable more widespread adoption of methanol as a transportation fuel.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has researched ways to improve efficiency of methanol fuel cells.
Learn more about methanol from the links below. The Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) and U.S. Department of Energy do not necessarily recommend or endorse these companies (see disclaimer).
- Methanol Institute
- Methanol as an Alternative Transportation Fuel in the United States: Options for Sustainable and/or Energy-Secure Transportation
The AFDC also provides a publications search for more information.