Methanol is one of the most versatile compounds ever developed and is the basis for hundreds of chemicals and thousands of products that touch our daily lives. It is the second most commonly shipped and transported product around the globe every year. A truly global commodity, methanol is a key component of modern life and new applications are paving the way forward towards increasing innovation.
Transportation Fuel – Methanol is the most basic form of alcohol. It is easy to transport, readily available, and has a high octane rating that allows for superior vehicle performance compared to gasoline. Many countries have adopted or are seeking to expand their methanol fueling programs, and that is the fastest growing segment of the methanol marketplace today. This is driven in large part by methanol’s low price compared to gasoline or ethanol, and the very small incremental cost to modify current vehicles to run on blends of methanol fuel. Methanol also produces much less toxic emissions than reformulated gasoline, with less particulate matter and smog forming emissions.
Biodiesel Transesterification – In the process of making biodiesel fuel, methanol is used as a key component in a process called transesterification – to put it simply, methanol is used to convert the triglycerides in different types of oils into usable biodiesel fuel. The transesterification process reacts methanol with the triglyceride oils contained in vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled greases, forming fatty acid alkyl esters (biodiesel) and the byproduct glycerin. Biodiesel production continues to grow around the globe, with everything from large-scale commercial operations to smaller, backyard blenders mixing this environmentally friendly fuel for everyday use in diesel engines.
The largest single use of ethanol is as an engine fuel and fuel additive. More than any other major country, Brazil relies on ethanol as an engine fuel. Gasoline sold in Brazil contains at least 25% anhydrous ethanol. Hydrous ethanol (about 95% ethanol and 5% water) can be used as fuel in more than 90% of new gasoline-engine cars sold in the country. Brazilian ethanol is produced from sugar cane and noted for high carbon sequestration. The US uses Gasohol (max 10% ethanol) and E85 (85% ethanol) ethanol/gasoline mixtures. Ethanol may also be utilized as a rocket fuel, and is currently in lightweight rocket-powered racing aircraft.
World production of ethanol in 2006 was 51 gigalitres (1.3×1010 US gal), with 69% of the world supply coming from Brazil and the United States. More than 20% of Brazilian cars are able to use 100% ethanol as fuel, which includes ethanol-only engines and ex-fuel engines. Flex-fuel engines in Brazil are able to work with all ethanol, all gasoline or any mixture of both. In the US flex-fuel vehicles can run on 0% to 85% ethanol (15% gasoline) since higher ethanol blends are not yet allowed or efficient. Brazil supports this population of ethanol-burning automobiles with a large national infrastructure that produces ethanol from domestically grown sugar cane. Sugar cane not only has a greater concentration of sucrose than corn (by about 30%), but is also much easier to extract.
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