Skip to comments.Methanol Wins - Itís time to open up the Open Road with H.R. 1687.
Posted on 12/01/2011 10:55:05 PM PST by neverdem
It's time to open up the Open Road with H.R. 1687.
On August 2, I published an open wager on National Review Online. I offered to bet up to ten people $10,000 each that I could take my 2007 Chevy Cobalt, which is not a flex-fuel car, and, running it on 100 percent methanol, get at least 24 miles per gallon on the highway. Since methanol averages less than half the price of gasoline — and can readily be made from coal, natural gas, or any kind of biomass without exception — this would demonstrate superior transportation economy from a non-petroleum fuel that is producible from plentiful American resources.
Unfortunately, no one took the bet. That fact alone says a lot. Of the 7 billion people on this planet, there are about a million or so who know a great deal about cars. Clearly, not one of them was sufficiently doubtful that it could be done to put his money on the line. Although it left me short a nice chunk of easy cash, the refusal of anyone to accept my challenge should have settled the matter. But some people, while refusing to take the bet, still demanded that I conduct the test anyway. I did, and here are the results.
First, I ran the car on 100 percent methanol. This required replacing the fuel-pump seal made of Viton, which is not methanol compatible, with one made of Buna-N, which is. The new part cost 41 cents, retail. In order to take proper advantage of methanol’s very high octane rating (about 109), I advanced the timing appropriately. This dramatically improved the motor efficiency and allowed the ordinarily sedate sedan to perform with a significantly more sporty spirit. As measured on the dyno, horsepower increased 10 percent. With these modifications complete, I took my Cobalt out for a road test. The result: 24.6 miles per gallon.
When I first made the bet, many commentators thought that I would aim for high-efficiency performance with high-octane fuel by increasing the compression ratio of the engine (which is how race-car drivers using methanol have done it for the past half-century). However, with modern cars using electronic fuel injection, this is unnecessary. Instead, the necessary changes to the engine can be made simply by adjusting the Engine Control Unit software. Thus, except for switching the fuel-pump seal as noted above, no physical changes to the car were required.
Other critics commented that while I might be able to achieve good fuel economy, the idea was impractical because the emissions would not be acceptable. In response, I had the car tested for emissions with 100 percent methanol (M100), 60 percent methanol (M60), and ordinary gasoline (i.e., E10, which contains about 10 percent ethanol), and for comparison, did mileage tests for these alternatives as well. The results of all these tests are shown in the table below.
It can be seen that, far from failing to meet emissions standards, the Cobalt running on methanol was extremely clean, beating both the strict Colorado emissions standards and the national EPA averages by an order of magnitude. The complete elimination of carbon-monoxide emissions when using M60 is particularly remarkable — so much so that I initially thought it was an experimental error caused by faulty equipment at the emissions test station. I tested it again at a different station and got the same result.
Returning to the subject of fuel economy, this can be evaluated by dividing the miles per gallon by the pre-tax spot price of the fuels in question in order to obtain the pre-tax miles per dollar shown in the table above. It can be seen that when methanol is used, fuel-economy improvements of 40 percent can be achieved. (The spot price shown in the table is the New York Harbor spot price of gasoline and the non-discounted Methanex spot price, both averaged over the past year.)
These results should not be too surprising. Methanol contains about half the energy content of gasoline, but its high octane allows it to be burned more efficiently, and thus obtain two-thirds of the mileage. The fact that the Cobalt could easily be made to use it should be no shock either: While not a flex-fuel car, the Cobalt uses the same E-37 computer and the same engine as GM’s HHR, which is a flex-fuel car. In fact, all GM cars sold in the U.S. for the past five years use either the E-37 (for small cars) or the equally flex-fuel-capable E-38 (for larger cars), and so all are capable of flex-fuel operation provided they are programmed correctly. The same is true at Ford, whose cars, whether flex-fuel or not, indiscriminately use the same “black oak,” “green oak,” or “silver oak” computers. Without question, the same must be the case for European and Japanese cars as well, since all are sold in Brazil, where flex-fuel capability is mandatory.
There was a time when adding flex-fuel capability to an automobile increased its cost by about $100. This is no longer true. Now almost all new cars already have flex-fuel hardware, and could easily be marketed as flex-fuel vehicles. Yet the automakers have failed to do so. This is an extraordinary disservice to the nation, because it is preventing us from meeting our fuel needs using our own resources. The United States has only about 4 billion tons of oil reserves, but over 270 billion tons of coal, unknowably vast supplies of natural gas, and by far the world’s most powerful agricultural sector — all of which could be used to produce methanol. Yet instead of being able to put these assets effectively to use to meet our transportation needs, we are being forced to buy 5 billion barrels per year of imported oil. At $100 per barrel, this is costing us $500 billion per year, a deduction from our GDP equal to that required to support 5 million jobs, at $100,000 annually per job.
The Open Fuel Standard bill (H.R. 1687) would remedy this situation by requiring automakers to activate the flex-fuel capabilities of their vehicles. This would open the market to fuels producible from plentiful domestic resources not under cartel control, free us from looting by OPEC, create millions of jobs, slash our deficit, reduce the flow of income to the Islamists, and cushion us from counter-effects should forceful action be required to deal with threats such as the Iranian nuclear-bomb program. Introduced by Reps. John Shimkus (R., Ill.) and Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), its current bipartisan list of sponsors includes liberals such as Jim McDermott (D., Wash.), Allyson Schwartz (D., Pa.), Steve Israel (D., N.Y.), and Howard Berman (D., Calif.) to conservatives Dan Burton (R., Ind.), Roscoe Bartlett (R., Md.), Tom Cole (R., Okla.), and Allen West (R., Fla.), as well as many in between. It is a bill clearly in the national interest, and should be supported by everyone from left to right.
By eliminating the artificial incompatibility between the vehicles we drive and the fuels we can make ourselves, the Open Fuel Standard bill will unchain the Invisible Hand, creating a true free market in vehicle fuels. Those reluctant to embrace it need to answer the following questions: In whose interest is it that Americans should continue to be denied fuel choice? In whose interest is it that America’s vast natural-gas, coal, and biomass resources remain unusable as a source of liquid vehicle fuel? In whose interest is it that America continue to give hundreds of billions of dollars each year to foreign potentates bent upon our destruction, instead of paying our own people to make fuel out of our own resources? In whose interest is it that a foreign cartel retains unlimited power to raise the cost of our fuel? In whose interest is it that we remain in the power of our enemies? Finally, should their interests be allowed to prevail, or should ours?
The fault, dear reader, is not in our cars, but in ourselves, that we are tributaries. We can set ourselves free, but action is required.
— Dr. Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics, a member of the Steering Committee of Americans for Energy, and author of Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil. His next book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudoscientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, will be published by Encounter Books in February.
editor’s note: This article has been amended since its initial publication.
This is not a fair comparison however. Gasoline is taxed at the state and federal level while Ethanol is subsidized.
Recalculate the chart on a level playing field eliminating taxes and subsidies and then we can discuss the superiority of Ethanol as a fuel.
Thanks for making me aware of this odious bill!
I WILL contact my congressman, in opposition.
The true cost of alky fuel are clearly manipulated in this article, they do not reflect the true expense.
Not only are the tax’s and subsidies not mentioned, neither are the inefficiencies of alcohol production.
The real agenda here is clearly to force all older cars off the road, screwing around with our fuel could do that pretty quickly.
I will NEVER own a “Flex-Fuel”, “Hybrid” or Electric” car, I’m keeping my pre-computer fossil fuel cars for life, the subsidy hungry alky lobby can kiss my @$$!
I don’t think methanol is subsidized.
"The spot price shown in the table is the New York Harbor spot price of gasoline and the non-discounted Methanex spot price, both averaged over the past year."
oops... sorry for the double-post.
Methanol not ethanol. One is like is like booze, the other like snooze or go blind.
I got an 07 Cobalt with the same 2.2 engine, gets 28-29mpg. runing on methanol could cause a fuel efficiency drop of aroung 18-20%, according to this article. Right now regular gas is just under 3.30/gal in NJ. So, in theory if they sell the stuff for less than 2.60 it may be a good tradeoff. When I first bought it I had the dealer replace the stock exhaust with a Goodwrench low-res exhaust system. It wasn’t cheap but it actually added about 2 extra miles/gal. I got 125k on it already, still runs and looks good as new, so I recovered that cost long ago. It’s well worth it if you don’t mind a little bit of that good old-fashioned glass-pack rumble ;)
Methanol is very corrosive - I don’t know how it would do in a car with 10-20 year life, as opposed to a race car that may be torn down every 10 hours of use. It’s also a very nasty poision. The good news is, that it’s amazingly biodegradeable.
It burns almost invisibly, which is fairly dangerous. I’m surprised that the article mentions that methanol attacks Viton, I thought that almost nothing short of hydrofloric acid could.
If you were to design a vehicle engine to run exclusively on methanol or ethanol, the compression ratio could probably be increased to 14:1 or so and/or the timing increased, and this would definitely take a great deal of the sting out of the lower energy density of the fuels.
I think that these fuels have a place in the (possibly near to mid) future, but destroying food (and using quite a bit of petrolueum in fertilizer chemicals) to make it is crazy.
Fire Sale on Electric Cars! The NRO source was loaded with links.
Some noteworthy articles about politics, foreign or military affairs, IMHO, FReepmail me if you want on or off my list.
Methanol can be made from coal, I think. The efficiency of the process I don’t know. But it too comes with its own set of drawbacks.
One further comment.
The only thing keeping the price of gasoline high is the restrictions on oil exploration by the government of the Unite States.
The US has more oil reserves on its territory than Saudi Arabia.
I think methanol is the future, but the environazis hate it because it is made from coal or natural gas. Ironically it is the easiest (cheapest) liquid fuel to produce and there are so many ways to make it, some are very long term like coal. I’m not a AGW sucker. But it is simple economics, Gasoline is going to continue to increase in price faster then inflation, and so will oil. China and India are increasing demand, and there is just not an infinite supply.
But coal will probably stay steady with inflation for a long time.
Coal can be converted to methane (natural gas), which can be converted to methanol. The price on this process will not go up ether.
Yes it isn’t quite as dense of energy as gasoline, but luckily weight isn’t a huge deal and its possible to stop and refuel. Not like airplanes, which needs to use kerosene and there is no substitute. So it makes sense to save some oil for jets and start powering our ground transport with coal products.
And if you are an enviro, or we still havent come up with anything better and use up almost all our coal 500 years from now, you can make methane from any plant matter. Just let it rot!
Hope this author goes back through and checks the rest of his fuel system soon. A few tanks of methanol might not do much, but as you say, it’s quite corrosive. It’ll chew through not only the pump diaphragm, but his injector seals (and maybe bodies), any seals or gaskets along the fuel lines, and it might do a number on his tank too, if its a plastic one. It’s not as simple to switch over as he says, and it’s not as big of a stretch to run on methanol as it is on ethanol, hence the reluctance to take his bet.
It’s very damaging to aluminum also.
The only difference in methanol and ethanol is one molicule that makes methanol poison and legal to sell.
As for price in the 50s we bought it for racing fuel and the only supplier was Shell Oil at 65 cents a gallon by the 55 gallon drum when gasoline was 13.0 cents a gallon.
Straignt ethanol is illegal to sell since it’s nothing but 100% vodka!!!!
James Woolsey also supports this guys methanol ideas. Methanol as home grown energy is far superior to taking our corn crop and making part of it into ethanol. Plus can make methanol from coal and natgas which is even better.
Methanol is very corrosive - I dont know how it would do in a car with 10-20 year life, as opposed to a race car that may be torn down every 10 hours of use.I was waiting for someone to post something about what this stuff does to cars. Thanks.
As for laws requiring us to buy something: no thanks.
I've used it for years without any noticeable ill effects but methanol can be absorbed through the skin and is a cumulative poison.
That said, I repeat I have been around it for years without any noticeable ill effects. I have certainly gotten more of it on me than you would filling your tank. Certainly an alternative, but I would think that you couldn't very well switch back and forth to gasoline
“Since methanol averages less than half the price of gasoline”
We buy 100% methanol in 55 gallon drums for a racing application. Not sure where this guy buys his but our cost is well above the pump price of reg. unleaded.
Methanol is extremely corrosive. Any contact with bare aluminum produces a mucky gel that clogs up the fuel system. Actually, saw a competitor struggling with a fuel problem for weeks to finally discover that they were using an aluminum funnel to refuel the car.
Also, in racing applications it takes almost twice the volume of methanol to produce the same results gas. Then there is that little problem of methanol being hygroscopic; water doesn’t burn very well.
Personally, I’ll pass on performing weekly maintenance, including oil changes, on my daily driving and yearly engine rebuilds. Bring back real gasoline!
The author is talking about METHANOL, not ETHANOL. AFAIK, methanol is NOT subsidized.
Indeed, if it "contains carbon" it can probably be turned into methanol. Conversion is particularly easy with natural gas, which, thanks to horizontal drilling, is rapidly increasing the US's supply of natgas. The only problem with natgas used as fuel directly is that is has to be stored under relatively high pressure to remain in liquid form. Methanol, of course, is liquid under ambient conditions. You lose some fuel value, but you gain ubiquity of fuel sources.
I have myself wondered why it wasn't being considered.
Methanol also has another interesting possibility.
It is possible (though present technology is in it’s infancy and therefore extremely inefficient) - but it IS possible to make a reversible fuel cell. Use methanol to generate electricity, or given an abundance of electricity, use the fuel cell in reverse to make methanol out of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
It makes a lot more sense than ethanol, except on the weekends.
You are wrong. This bill provides choices. Under the bill, you could still use gasoline, if you choose to, and you can keep your old gasoline powered vehicle, if you want to. Personally, I like the idea of being able to choose for myself and not have fuel choices dictated by energy lobbyists and politicians.
IIRC, it is easier to make methanol from fossil fuels, and better to use plant feedstocks for making ethanol. The beauty of ethanol is the net zero catbon footprint.
catbon = carbon
The nanny-staters would have the vapors and scream bloody murder that *teenagers* will be killing themselves by the MILLIONS by having 109 Octane Fuel in their cars.
There'll be drag races by VW Beetles from every stop light. And *kids* will think they're Tony Stewart and drive their Ford Focus like every curved road is Talladega (All Hail Talladega! Bow you peasants, bow).
They're all irresponsible(1) ya know!
(1) But those irresponsible 'kids' can join the Military, be given an M4 and kill the enemy at will, and that's okay. 'Cause those same nanny-staters aren't doin that killin which keeps themselves safe. And free to go on yapping.
He eliminated the Federal and State fuel taxes in doing the comparisons.
'Oil' companies are also in the coal and gas business. Why would they be opposed?
Methanol is also called wood alcohol, being as it was distilled from wood. It is very poisonous, one sip can cause blindness and three sips can kill a man. It is used in Indy 500 race cars.
Ethanol is also called grain alcohol. It is distilled from the sugars in food: grains, corn, rice, potatoes, wheat, grapes, etc. It's what humans have used as a relaxing or intoxicating beverage for as far back as we know.
The modern ethanol industry is what we conservatives and libertarians despise as a prime example of crony capitalism, delusional "green" science, and government over-meddling.
The Methanol Industry is older and more established than the Ethanol distillers, fuel wise. But then the Methanol Industry aren't the super crony capitalists that the Ethanators are.
Extremely provocative article.
If the demand for methanol increases, so will the price. I like the fact that methanol is used as a race car fuel already, it means that there is a hugh baseline of practical experience.
Does Methanol destroy small engines?
Informative post, as are a few others by others prior covering similar points. Thanks!
He is discussing Methanol, not Ethanol.
Try this, methanol evaporates more easily, and is poisonous when inhaled. 1 oz could be a lethal dose. Since it is lighter than gasoline, the vapors also float a bit higher.
Methane burns invisibly.
Methane is more corrosive to rubber and many plastics than ethanol, and ethanol is more corrosive than gasoline.
Methanol is a weak acid and is corrosive to aluminum.
Methanol can make starting in cold weather harder.
Methanol is highly hydroscopic, and will suck water out of the air and so must be kept in tightly sealed containers to keep it from getting watered down.
Methanol burns cooler and can be put out with water, so there are some safety advantages. The lack of visible fire makes it less scary to the fans at a race track, but more dangerous to the drivers without nomex suits.
This isn't going to be a drop-in replacement for gasoline, but then again, ethanol required some re-engineering too. I think the poison problem will be hard to work around.
I sincerely doubt that I am wrong.
I’ve seen too many other Fed. “Choices” become Fed. MANDATES!
My cars cannot tolerate even E-15, which is already in the works to become the unavoidable norm.
Then it will be E-20, 30-40 etc., until NO pre-computer cars can be driven unless the owner is VERY wealthy and buys custom fuel at some insane price, or has his engine rebuilt specifically to run Alky.
I remember the result when they took the Lead out of our gas, lots of cars destroyed due to valve recession (premature wear).
Lots of cars being ruined currently due to the removal of Zinc from the oil, to protect catalytic converters.
Without the Zinc engines without a roller valve train get flat cams, I know this to be true, it’s happened to THREE of my engines in the last five years.
I am a trained mechanic, and an enthusiast, I know very well where this bill is heading us.
From what I can find, it depends on where it is made and the intended use.
Once it becomes a way for the greenies to destroy older “Gas Guzzler” cars it WILL be subsidized in the U.S.
There are several flaws in this article.
First is air/fuel ratio. Gasoline is normally used at approximately 14:1 air to fuel, by weight. Methanol is normally used at approximately 6:1 air to fuel by weight.
This means either your carburetor jets or your fuel injectors need to be MUCH larger to allow proper flow.
The author mentions methanol’s effects on Viton, but neglects its effects on other components in cars. Also, methanol is hygroscopic, meaning it sucks up water, causing corrosion.
Methanol is a great fuel in a properly engineered system. But change one seal and go is a recipe for disaster.
Ethanol ‘draws water’ while it is standing in your tank. Condensation will kill your efficiency in short order.
Such ‘water in the fuel’ is a source of rust for metal parts, along with the aforementioned problems with gaskets, etc.
The fuel lines in cars- both current & older are not compatible with Ethanol, either. Replacing them with STAINLESS STEEL lines is the only thing that works.
Ask the manufacturers of fuel pumps for racing. They are facing this problem daily.
Not only are the taxs and subsidies not mentioned, neither are the inefficiencies of alcohol production.
You are right to challenge any suggestion that alcohol made from corn is contributes to energy independence or in any other way is of any particular benefit to the public. Corn alcohol, however, is ethanol, and the article discusses and advocates for a different chemical, methanol, which although it is an alcohol is
Ethanol, which is being crammed down out throats and is therefore about 10% of the "gasoline" we find at the gas station, is subsidized.
- poisonous and non-potable, and
- manufactured from natural gas (a.k.a. methane).
OTOH Methanol is not subsidized because there is no political gain to promoting its use when you are stumping for electoral votes in the Iowa Caucus. It is only half the price of gasoline, but it also is only half the fuel value. Its advantage over gasoline lies in its octane rating which the article says is 109. He boasts that he didn't have to increase the compression ration to get good (on a miles per dollar, not miles per gallon) fuel economy. But speaking as one with a degree in mechanical engineering, I assure you that he would have gotten even better results if he had increased the compression ratio. The advantage of simply advancing the spark instead is that he had no mechanical change to make in order to switch between methanol and gasoline.The other advantage is of course that the natural gas to convert to methane is under our dirt rather than coming from the Middle East. Which means American business opportunities and American jobs - not to mention, American tax revenues - rather than exporting hundreds of billions of dollars to people who don't have our best interests at heart.
There is no free lunch, if Methanol became popular prices would rise very quickly, probably taking the source material up with it.
Used as fuel, all fuel taxes would be applied.
Anyone who wants to run is free to do so, I just do not want to lose the legal/practical ability to use MY cars due to an incompatible fuel being shoved down my throat.
I can assure you Methanol is VERY incompatible with every car I currently own, or ever intend to own.
Anyone who wants to run IT is free to do so.....