Methanol, fuel of the future?

1988/02/01 Elhuyar Zientzia Iturria: Elhuyar aldizkaria

In the immigrant cars can have a new fuel, methanol. At a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society in Orleans Berri, Manitoba University researcher Hyman Gesser has presented a new process to transform natural gas into fuel methanol. He believes that this process can start in economic competition with gasoline production.

Methanol is an attractive alternative to gasoline because it is cleaner and has less combustion energy. The latter means that fewer nitrogen oxides are emitted. Having an octane level higher than gasoline, you do not need lead additives to increase octane. Being liquid methanol for its part, it is more comfortable for sale and distribution than the gas alternatives of gasoline.

Of course it has disadvantages. It is toxic on the one hand and dissolves the welds of gasoline tanks on the other. Having a higher vapor pressure than gasoline in turn can damage the gasoline pump. However, the most serious problem is the economic obtaining of methanol.

Currently methanol is synthesized in two stages from natural gas or coke. The first step is to pass methane (natural gas) and water through a hot nickel catalyst, obtaining a mixture of hydrogen called syngas and carbon oxide (II). Then mix at high pressure through another catalyst (50-100 atm.) is passed to get methanol. This process cannot compete with gasoline.

Gesser and his colleagues have launched a method to obtain methanol in a step of natural gas as a result of five years of work. Methane burns in the air producing carbon dioxide and water. However, by limiting the air supply, methane may partially oxidize to methanol. By adjusting the concentration of pressure, temperature and oxygen, methanol can be synthesized with a yield of 8%. This method is said to be 20% cheaper than usual.

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