Ethanol vs. Methanol

Cindy Zimmerman

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.