Make Way for Methanol Fuel

Methanol fuel could one day become a viable alternative for city folk just as ethanol fuel has already proved its value for country folk.

| March/April 1981

068 methanol fuel

A standard Ford sedan modified to run on methanol fuel. 


Over the past couple of years, ethyl alcohol—the clear, clean-burning liquid usually made from farm products—has been pretty much accepted as a viable substitute for our expensive (and in finite supply) petroleum-based fuels. However, ethanol isn't the only member of the alcohol "family" that can serve this purpose. There's another form of fluid energy—methanol—which not only does, under certain circumstances, cost less than either grain alcohol or gasoline, but also can be manufactured from virtually any source of biomass, including wood wastes and garbage!

An Urban Energy Alternative

Obviously enough, even though ethyl alcohol could be made on a large scale (then distributed locally as are petroleum products), it's more cost-effective—because of handling and transportation expenses—for a farmer to distill his or her own fuel from surplus and spoiled crops readily at hand. Unfortunately, methanol fuel (or wood alcohol, as it's sometimes referred to) doesn't easily lend itself to small-scale production. Therefore, industrial —rather than individual—manufacture of this type of alcohol is most practical (especially in light of the fact that the end product can be as much as 52% less expensive than farm-produced ethanol, even with local transportation costs considered).

What this means, of course, is that methyl alcohol can be to the urbanite what ethanol is to the farmer: a way out of the fuel crisis. And fortunately, there are people marketing methanol, right now, with just that notion in mind. One such individual is Charles Stone, president of Future Fuels of America.

Blending for the Better

The California entrepreneur's venture revolves around what he calls "Methanol X," a blend of pure methyl alcohol and several other volatiles. The production of the fuel is accomplished by breaking a hydrocarbon feedstock down into carbon monoxide and hydrogen (using a destructive distillation process), then forcing the gases to react in the presence of a catalyst—and under elevated temperatures and pressures—to form liquid methanol.

Once the "base" fuel is made, Stone's group adds a small percentage of higher grade alcohols and aromatics—along with a dash of diesel oil—to help the entire mixture vaporize more easily and provide some built-in lubrication.

Although the cost of the equipment necessary to manufacture methanol is greater than that needed to ferment and distill ethyl alcohol (at least on a smallscale level), the former fuel has several distinct advantages:

chuck stone
5/1/2011 7:03:13 PM

It has been 30 years since this article was published by Mother Earth News. Chuck Stone gifted Future Fuels to Bert Bockmann owner of Galpin Ford, and Ford President Don Peterson at a meeting in Dearborn, Michigan. Ford was commited to producing dedicated methanol fueled vehicles as new Ford products and Stone was free to return to the space business where he came from. Dr. Roberta Nichols who was trained by Stone was to head up the Ford efforts. After they built 40 dedicated high compression Ford Escorts, they switched to making low compression Flex-fuel vehicles. That was the death of methanol as a motor vehicle fuel.

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