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US skeptical of methanol as gasoline substitute

03.19.2014  | 

“There’s a lot of choices out there and they’re all vying for a fairly limited market,” a US Energy Department official said at an industry event. “It is going to be a fight for any fuel to succeed.”

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By JIM EFSTATHIOU Jr.
Bloomberg

Backers of using methanol from natural gas as a substitute for gasoline got a chilly reception from a federal official who said he is skeptical the fuel will gain widespread adoption for use in cars and trucks.

Industry representatives face obstacles promoting methanol as a way to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and boost engine performance, Patrick Davis, director of the Energy Department’s Vehicles Technologies Office, said Wednesday in Washington.

“There’s a lot of choices out there and they’re all vying for a fairly limited market,” Davis said at an industry conference. “It is going to be a fight for any fuel to succeed.”

Using the fuel would reduce reliance on imported oil and be a hedge against oil-price shocks that raise gasoline prices, said John Hofmeister, founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy and president of Shell Oil Co., the US unit of Royal Dutch Shell, from 2005 to 2008. He also is a member of the United States Energy Security Council, which sponsored the conference.

Globally, about 40% of methanol is used by energy companies, said John Floren, CEO of Methanex, the world’s largest supplier. The Vancouver-based company has dismantled two production plants in Chile and plans to reassemble them in Louisiana.

‘We expect a lot of new plants to be built here in the US,’’ Floren said.

Advances in drilling techniques, including hydraulic fracturing or fracking, have boosted US production of natural gas by 35% from a decade-low 18 trillion cubic feet in 2005, according to the Energy Information Administration.

100 Million

Methanol plants worldwide can produce about 100 million metric tons (almost 33 billion gallons or 90 billion liters), and each day more than 100,000 tons is used as a chemical feedstock or as a transportation fuel, according to the Methanol Institute, which co-sponsored the conference.

Industry expansion depends on passing a law forcing automakers to produce cars that run on methanol, and approval by the US Environmental Protection Agency to use it as a transportation fuel, Hofmeister said. Better lobbying of lawmakers on Capitol Hill also is needed, he added.

“Methanol matters for the same reason that ethanol matters, which is it’s an alternative to oil,” Hofmeister said in an interview. “It would help if people on the hill understood the value to the consumer and the importance in the fuel mix.”

Producers of ethanol, made from corn, outspend methanol makers on lobbying by 50 to 1, said Gal Luft, senior adviser to the United States Energy Security Council, which backs oil alternatives.

One hurdle is the lack of infrastructure to produce and deliver methanol to fueling stations, Davis said.

“There are lots of competitors out there,” Davis said. “It’s not at all completely clear that methanol has the suit of attributes that would favor it as a winner.”



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Dave
03.21.2014

I spent 20 yrs as a pipeline welder in the natural gas industry and I know the Company added Methanol at the regulator stations to keep the regulators from freezing up in Winter. As a fuel source would it be blended in gasoline as ethanol presently is or as a lone fuel source?

gms
03.20.2014

I find it hard to believe anycompany in the US would consider blending methanol into gasoline. Remember what happened with MTBE and LUSTs? And with methanol being many times more toxic than MTBE!

Mukul Mahant
03.20.2014

Answer is METHANOL>>DME to eliminate Crude Oil/ Refining Gasoline/Diesel/LPG/Jet Fuel

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