At the Methanol Policy Forum – held March 27, 2012 in Washington, DC – energy industry and policy experts convened to discuss the fuel’s potential as a transportation fuel. The Forum’s opening remarks were made by DOE Assistant Secretary David Sandalow, who offered that methanol offered advantages as a transportation fuel but also brings along some challenges.

Among the advantages:

  • “First, and perhaps most important, methanol is inexpensive to produce. At today’s low natural gas and high oil prices, methanol could help reduce fuel costs consumers pay at the pump.
  • “Second, methanol is a liquid at room temperature. It doesn’t need to be compressed or liquefied, as natural gas does when used directly as a transportation fuel.
  • “Third, methanol can be made from many feedstocks.
  • “Fourth, methanol is a high octane fuel, which means it will produce more power from an engine than gasoline.”

Among the challenges:

  • “First, methanol is more corrosive than gasoline, which means that most cars on the road today could not be driven on it except in very low blends.
  • “Second, methanol has half the energy content of gasoline. Although methanol is cheaper than gasoline on an energy-equivalent basis, that means more frequent refueling for driver using methanol.
  • “Third, Clean Air Act regulations restrict how much alcohol can be used in gasoline for conventional gasoline vehicles and engines. Since ethanol already comprises about 10% of U.S. gasoline, the ‘room’ available for [methanol] is limited.
  • “A fourth challenge is refueling infrastructure. Like ethanol, methanol would need to be transported to terminals closer to retail locations and blended into gasoline during final delivery to retail locations.”

What’s the potential of methanol in the U.S. liquid fuel mix? Is it more promising than other alternative fuels? What has limited its market share to date?