Ethanol vs. Methanol

AmEnt Here is a link to an article from The American Enterprise by Dr. Robert Zubrin, president of the aerospace engineering and research firm Pioneer Astronautics, who wrote The Case for Mars and other books. Basically, he’s a rocket scientist. “An Energy Revolution” discusses in detail the “alcohol solution” to America’s dependence on foreign oil, including a relatively balanced comparison of ethanol and methanol, detailing their pros and cons. Here is a portion of that comparison:
Methanol is cheaper than ethanol. It can also be made from a broader variety of biomass materal, as well as from coal and natural gas. And methanol is the safest motor fuel, because it is much less flammable than gasoline (a fact that has led to its adoption by car racing leagues). ***please note that major car racing leagues, like Indy, are now switching to ethanol – cz***
On the other hand, ethanol is less chemically toxic than methanol, and it carries more energy per gallon. Ethanol contains about 75 percent of the energy of gasoline per gallon, compared to 67 percent for methanol. Both thus achieve fewer miles per gallon than gasoline, but about as many miles per dollar at current prices, and probably many more miles per dollar at future prices.
Methanol is more corrosive than ethanol. This can be dealt with by using appropriate materials in the automobile fuel system. A fuel system made acceptable for methanol use will also be fine for ethanol or pure gasoline.
Both ethanol and methanol are water soluble and biodegradable in the environment. The consequences of a spill of either would be much less than that of petroleum products. If the Exxon Valdez had been carrying either of these fuels instead of oil, the environmental impact caused by its demise would have been negligible.

Now, Dr. Zubrin’s ultimate conclusion is that methanol is better in the long run – my conclusion is that there is room for everyone in this domestic fuel boat, but that’s just me. He also completely discounts hydrogen as an alternative fuel possibility -but I would say that it may have its niche as well. Again, that’s just me – and I am no rocket scientist, just an observer.
Thanks to Gary Dikkers for pointing me to this article.

5 thoughts on “Ethanol vs. Methanol

  1. I hope one of your readers can fill me in on a paticular aspect of fuel attributes. I operate a marine fuel dock in RI and I’ve recently learned we will be changing from MTBE to methanol in the next few months. I’m having difficulty finding an unambigious procedure to advise my customers on what precautions to use in order to avoid having phase seperation ( water )occure in their fuel storage tanks. They range from 6 gal to 250 gal. If eathanol is used, a simple water separator would be effective however the rumor around the docks is that if a supplier provides methanol as the additive the chemistry becomes more challenging to separate. My customers travel to offshore sites to fish and if problems develope out there it’s tough to stop in the breakdown lane. This saefty issue in marine fuels is the focus of my inquiry and I would appreciate any insight or remarks your readers would offer. Thank you for your time.

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  3. I’ve been around speedway for over half a century and methanol is the specified fuel, for two reasons: (1) it’s higher flash point means huge reduction in fuel fire risk in crashes. (2) it’s higher flash point means it can tolerate much higher compression ratios without pre-ignition (detonation) and in some engines will tolerate compression ratios as high as 16:1.
    In one of my businesses we installed turbo chargers on standard road cars and was able to retain standard compression ratios up to 11:1 whilst running up to 10psi boost. This was possible by blending 20% methanol with 80% regular pump gas, without ANY modifications to fuel system and with no detrimental effects over extended periods of time. By comparison we could only run 4psi boost pressure on regular pump gas.

  4. full of bull.
    methenol was and still is better than ethenaol . proven in the 70s .methenol better for your car in octaine ,more miles per galllon and will not eat your car apart from the in side out .