Methanol as a Gasoline Extender: A Critique

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Science  29 Nov 1974:
Vol. 186, Issue 4166, pp. 785-790
DOI: 10.1126/science.186.4166.785


The tests conducted with the three vehicles at different emission control levels suggest that, in the area of fuel economy and emissions, potential benefits with methanol blends are related to carburetion and are only significant in the case of the rich-operating cars built before emission control standards were imposed. Theoretical considerations related to methanol's leaning effect on carburetion support this conclusion. Potential advantages for methanol in these areas are therefore continuously diminishing as the older cars leave the roads. At present, these older cars use only about one-fourth of the totalc motor gasoline consumed and, before methanol could be used on a large scale, this fraction would be much smaller.

The use of methanol in gasoline would almost certainly create severe product quality problems. Water contamination could lead to phase separation in the distribution system and possibly in the car tank as well, and this would require additional investment in fuel handling and blending equipment. Excess fuel volatility in hot weather may also have adverse effects on car performance if the methanol blends include typical concentrations of butanes and pentanes. Removal of these light hydrocarbon components would detract from methanol's role as a gasoline extender and if current fuel volatility specifications were maintained, its use could lead to a net loss in the total available energy for use in motor fuels. Car performance problems associated with excessively lean operation would also be expected in the case of a significant proportion of late-model cars which are adjusted to operate on lean fuel-air mixtures.

If methanol does become available in large quantities, these factors suggest that it would be more practical to use it for purposes other than those related to the extending of motor gasoline, such as for gas turbines used for electric power generation. In this case, the "pure" methanol would act as a cleanburning fuel, having none of the potentially severe product quality problems associated with its use in motor gasoline, while the fuel oil or natural gas cLirrently burned in these tuLrbines CotLild be diverted to other ulses.