Methanol as motor fuel: Summary Report

Jörg Schröder, Franziska Müller-Langer, Päivi Aakko-Saksa, Kim Winther, Wibke Baumgarten, Magnus Lindgren

Research output: Book/ReportReport

Abstract

Global warming is a major threat for continuation of humankind as we know it today, and concerted actions are needed in all economic sectors to reduce GHG emissions. Improving energy efficiency of engines is not enough, and thus fossil-free fuels are required to alleviate climate burden especially of the transport sector. The most effective fuels are those with minimum GHG emissions and minimum pollutants along the well-to-wheel (WTW) chain, while
compatible with common internal combustion engines and fuel infrastructure. There are many alternative fuel options (e.g. methane, methanol and other hydrocarbons as well as hydrogen) using different resources – mainly renewables – and conversion technologies. Providing renewable fuels for combustion engines does not renounce the need for adaptation of advanced
technologies, such as electric powertrains.

In this Annex 56 various aspects of methanol as fuel for the transport sector are reviewed and evaluated: from its production to its application in engines, including advantages and disadvantages. Barriers and an outlook on the potential and possibilities of methanol as motor fuel are given.

Renewable transport fuels such as methanol could become an important solution to combat global warming and air pollution for sectors and regions where the electrification of the powertrain is challenging, e. g. in the shipping sector. The greenhouse gas saving potential of renewable methanol are quite high and the physical properties of methanol support a clean and
efficient combustion. Therefore, the operational production capacities have to be strengthened massively to get a perceptible impact of substituting fossil energy carrier in the future. A wide range of resources could be utilized to produce renewable methanol, from bio- and waste-based streams to renewable hydrogen and circular CO2. Methanol as motor fuel was demonstrated in large vehicle fleet during the 1980/90s. Despite technical success methanol was not a commercial success. Recently, there is again an increasing interest on methanol as fuel.
Prominent examples are China as largest user of methanol as automotive fuel and Europe where methanol is being considered as marine fuel or to be used in fuel cell electric vehicles.

Internal combustion engines using methanol as a fuel could be further developed for high efficiency to gain maximum energy and pollutant savings. However, if methanol will be applied as automotive fuel with higher blending rates or as pure fuel technical adjustments of the fuel existing infrastructure are required (e.g. modifications of some fuel-carrying materials, safety
measures).

Key findings from the report are summarized as follows:

-Methanol is a multipurpose fuel as it could be used straight or as blending component in fuels, for the production of fuel additives or for fuel cell application. Several concepts for internal combustion engines are available for using methanol in passenger cars, light-duty and heavy-duty engines as well as in ships.
-Straight methanol burns with very low particle and NOX emissions in refitted
engines. A further reduction of pollutants could be expected for future high efficiency combustion engines.
- Methanol could significantly increase the engine efficiency in dedicated engines. Therefore additional research and development is needed to realize this potential – also from an OEM perspective.
- The existing fuel infrastructure requires no adjustments for low level methanol blends. For higher methanol blends and straight methanol, the adjustments of the existing fuel infrastructure are well known. There are consideration needed regarding material compatibility and safety handling.
- In order to support GHG mitigation in transport, production capacity of
sustainable renewable methanol has to increase from the current level of less than 1 million tonnes per year to cover a part of the transport sector. Today methanol is mainly produced from fossil resources at the global production capacity of about 125 million tonnes.
- Production costs and GHG reduction potentials of renewable methanol produced on an industrial scale can be competitive to established renewable fuels, if using suitable resources like waste wood and cultivated wood.
- Supporting elements on strategic, regulatory, technical and communicative level are of overarching importance like for any alternative fuel in transport.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages52
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020
MoE publication typeD4 Published development or research report or study

Keywords

  • methanol
  • renewable energy
  • motor fuel
  • fuel
  • marine
  • transport
  • catalyst
  • engine
  • emission

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