Also known as methyl alcohol, carbinol, and wood alcohol, methanol is simply methane gas minus one hydrogen molecule, which is replaced by a so-called hydroxyl radical.

indy car engine

photo by Keith Syvinsk

In the 1980s methanol was seen as a great alternative to gas and diesel. Car manufacturers put thousands of flexible-fuel vehicles (FFV) on the road that ran on a blend of methanol and gasoline (M85). It has since been surpassed by other fuels, although it remains the only propulsion fuel used at the Indianapolis 500. Its most important role right now is probably in the production of newer, emerging fuels, such as biodiesel, hydrogen, and dimethyl ether (DME).


Liquid, colorless, flammable, poisonous, a sweet odor


Although methanol can be produced using a number of raw materials (feedstocks), natural gas is preferred. The methane in natural gas reacts with steam in a reaction called steam-methane reforming; the resultant synthesis gas then reacts with a catalyst to produce methanol and water vapor.

Additionally, methanol is also produced naturally in a process known as anaerobic digestion (see biogas for more information).

CO2 Emissions

Combustion does release CO2 into the atmosphere.

Fuel Blends

Methanol can be blended with conventional gasoline and diesel, as well as a number of other fuels.


It can use the existing road transport system for conventional diesel.

Compared to Gasoline

Its production costs, as well as flammability risk, are substantially lower than those of gasoline.


It can be made into hydrogen, a fuel with enormous potential.

It can be manufactured from a variety of carbon-based sources.

The Future…

Rather than serving as a transportation fuel itself, methanol is undergoing a reconsideration as an effective means of producing other alternative fuels.

It plays a significant role in the production of biodiesel, an emerging alternative fuel that has been generating a lot of excitement. Furthermore, current research suggests it may be effective as a fuel source for hydrogen in fuel cell vehicles, and methanol derived from natural gas is used to manufacture Dimethyl either (DME), another emerging alternative fuel.

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