ScienceDaily (Dec. 7, 2007) — After grabbing headlines for years as the ultimate solution to world energy problems, the "hydrogen economy" has an emerging but lesser-known competitor called the "methanol economy," according to an article scheduled for the Dec. 3 issue of Chemical & Engineering News.
In the article, C&EN Associate Editor Jyllian Kemsley describes how methanol, an alcohol like ethanol, shows increasing promise as an alternative energy source with advantages over both ethanol and hydrogen. A methanol economy -- championed in a 2006 book by chemistry Nobel Laureate George Olah -- would not be dependent on bumper crops of corn and could provide lower tailpipe emissions and a reduced fire hazard.
Besides powering automobile engines, methanol can also be used to power fuel cells and as a fuel for operating gas turbines at electric power plants, the article notes. It also can take the place of petroleum-based feedstocks for making a range of chemicals and materials, including plastics.
China now blazes the trail toward a methanol economy, putting 1 to 2 billion gallons per year toward fuel, according to the article. Researchers worldwide are now exploring new, more efficient methods for making methanol. One of the downsides of producing methanol, however, is that carbon dioxide, the primary gas behind climate change, is a byproduct. To remove that liability, scientists are also developing processes that can convert the carbon dioxide into more methanol or other usable materials, the article states.