Methanol stands as one of the promising alternative fuels, as demonstrated through large-scale fleet trials in the 1980s and 1990s. It is currently being reintroduced in various applications. For instance, during the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou on September 23rd, Geely has provided carbon-neutral green methanol for the Games’ main torch. This marks the first large-scale use of methanol as a fuel source.
Methanol’s production sources include fossil fuels, biomass, and renewable energy sources within carbon capture and utilization schemes. The fuel can be utilized either in its pure form or as a blend component and is compatible with both internal combustion engines (ICEs) and direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs). These factors, combined with its liquid state, emphasize its efficiency in energy storage and distribution, making it one of the most compelling and scalable alternatives.
Methanol retains its liquid state under standard temperature and pressure conditions. This characteristic means that the existing infrastructure required for its utilization as a fuel is already largely in place, with combustion engines, fuel cells, and power blocks capable of straightforward and cost-effective adaptation to accommodate methanol. Currently, methanol is primarily manufactured at an industrial scale.
Projections indicate that the global methanol market will increase from USD 30.9 billion in 2023 to reach USD 38.0 billion by 2028, at a CAGR of 4.2% (2023-2028). Notably, the energy-related applications of methanol have emerged as the fastest-growing segments of methanol demand, currently accounting for 40% of global methanol consumption.
Different types of methanol production methods have varying environmental impacts:
- Green Methanol: Derived from biomass or captured CO2 and green hydrogen, green methanol is the most environmentally sustainable option.
- Blue Methanol: Produced using blue hydrogen in conjunction with carbon capture technology, blue methanol significantly reduces well-to-tank CO2 emissions compared to fossil fuels like diesel, making it a viable alternative.
- Grey Methanol: Created from natural gas, grey methanol’s well-to-wake CO2 impact is worse than diesel, emphasizing its environmental drawbacks.
- Brown Methanol: Produced using coal, brown methanol poses similar challenges as grey methanol in terms of its well-to-wake CO2 impact, making it less environmentally friendly.
All types of methanol can contribute to a tank-to-wake CO2 reduction of about 7% compared to diesel. However, when considering the entire production-to-utilization process, green and blue methanol emerge as the alternatives for substantial greenhouse gas reduction.
Methanol finds application as a transportation fuel in three primary ways:
- Additives or Fuel Blends: Methanol contributes to the production of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive that reduces tailpipe emissions. It also plays a role in producing alternative fuels like biodiesel. Forecasts indicate a projected 30% increase in the output of biodiesel and similar fuels by 2025, compared to 2019 levels. Methanol is also incorporated into gasoline blends worldwide, with varying percentages, including high-volume blends (50-100%), mid-level blends (15-30%), and low-level blends (3-5%).
- Fuel Cells: Fuel cells utilize hydrogen as a fuel source to generate clean and efficient electricity, capable of powering vehicles, buildings, and more. Methanol proves to be an excellent carrier for hydrogen, packing a higher hydrogen content within a single alcohol molecule compared to compressed or liquefied hydrogen. Methanol can be reformed on-site at fuelling stations to produce hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles. It also serves as a fuel source for stationary power units. Methanol fuel cells offer rapid refuelling, similar to gasoline or diesel vehicles, and can significantly extend the range of battery electric vehicles, from 200 km to over 1,000 km.
- Fuel for Passenger Vehicles: In China, stringent air quality standards have been a driving force behind the adoption of methanol as a cleaner-burning. By the end of 2022, approximately 110 M100 (100% methanol fuel) filling stations are in operation in China, serving around 27,000 M100 taxis powered exclusively by methanol.
Over the last decade, global methanol production experienced a significant surge, almost doubling to approximately 98 million metric tons in 2019. This remarkable growth was primarily fuelled by China, where coal-based methanol production played a pivotal role. Projections indicate a continuous rise in methanol demand, expecting it to surpass 120 million metric tons by 2025.
Methanol as Fuel in Vehicles
Technologies have been developed to enable the use of methanol in diesel and dual-fuel engines, and methanol is already being employed as marine fuel in select ships.
Initially constituting less than 1% in 2000, the share of methanol consumption as a fuel has now surged to over 14%. The properties of methanol offer an opportunity for automakers to design high-efficiency engines, compensating for the relatively low energy density of methanol. It is adaptable for use in modified diesel engines, advanced hybrid and fuel cell vehicles.
High concentration methanol blends, such as 85 vol-% methanol in gasoline (M85), find application in specialized Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs). In China, methanol is utilized in various blends ranging from M5 to M100, and certain markets even explore gasoline/ethanol/methanol blends (GEM). However, in several regions like Europe and North America, the blending of methanol in gasoline is restricted to a few percentages. To employ methanol at high blending ratios in gasoline, specific corrosion inhibitors, co-solvents, and alcohol-compatible materials within vehicles are essential. These components are necessary to resist phase separation, ensuring stability and safety.
Regarding vehicle compatibility, engine retrofit technology has been upgraded to incorporate alcohol-resistant materials and innovative lubricants, minimizing issues related to component corrosion. Dual-fuel tanks and electronic control unit technology have been introduced to facilitate the storage and seamless switching of dual fuels, mitigating cold-start problems and maximizing the mileage of methanol vehicles. The advancement in these technologies ensure that methanol vehicles can operate on methanol fuel with minimal modifications.
Geely’s Methanol Vehicle:
Over the past decades, Geely Holding has invested over 3 billion RMB in the development of methanol vehicles and green methanol technologies, resulting in the launch of more than 20 methanol vehicles and the acquisition of 256 patents related to methanol technologies. Geely positions itself as one of the largest producers of methanol vehicles globally through its development of methanol fuel. Under its subsidiary brands, Geely Auto Emgrand manufactures methanol sedans, while Geely Commercial Vehicles produces the Farizon M100 heavy truck, both of which adhere to “China VI” emissions standards.
In early 2022, the Geely Group introduced the fourth generation of Emgrand methanol/electric hybrid vehicles. In comparison to Emgrand methanol vehicles, fuel consumption over a distance exceeding 100 km was reduced from 14 L to 9.2 L, representing enhanced energy efficiency.
Looking ahead, Geely Holding intends to subject its methanol vehicles to EU certification and introduce them to other European markets in support of the broader goal of achieving carbon neutrality.
GLy ecosystem update:
Geely provided the methanol used in the primary cauldron tower during the Hangzhou Asian Games’ opening ceremony. This marked the first-ever use of methanol fuel in the history of the Asian Games. Geely’s methanol, produced in its Anyang plant in Henan province using local industrial exhaust, was transported to Hangzhou via the company’s methanol-powered trucks.
Farizon Auto has introduced the SuperVan, a modular commercial vehicle with a swappable high-voltage battery pack and drive-by-wire technology. The van, which can also incorporate a methanol range extender, offers versatile configurations and can generate up to 10 kilowatts of 220V AC power from its battery pack for various applications.
Lotus has unveiled Emeya in New York City. Emeya features an electronically controlled air suspension system equipped with advanced sensors that adjust the vehicle 1,000 times a second for a smooth ride. The top specification model boasts a high-power dual motor setup, achieving a top speed of over 155mph (250km/h) and accelerating from 0-62mph (0-100km/h) in under 2.8 seconds, making it one of the fastest electric GTs globally
Polestar has nearly completed the development of its Polestar 3. Unveiled in October 2022, The electric mid-size SUV is set to begin production at Volvo Cars’ South Carolina plant in the first quarter of 2024. US deliveries are expected to commence in the second quarter of 2024, indicating a likely arrival for the 2025 model year.
What We’ve Been Reading This Month:
The European Union plans to investigate Chinese subsidies for electric vehicles, leading to potential trade restrictions such as import tariffs on Chinese vehicles. Non-Chinese EV brands such as Tesla and BMW could be examined as part of the investigation. This move has faced opposition, especially from German automakers wary of potential economic consequences in the world’s largest auto market. In response, China has warned that the anti-subsidy probe could harm bilateral trade and raise prices for European consumers.
Mercedes-Benz has partnered with Mastercard to allow customers in Germany to pay for fuel directly from their cars by scanning their fingerprint through the Mercedes Pay+ payment service. The service can calculate the required amount and cost of fuel before the transaction is completed. Mercedes-Benz plans to integrate further services in the future, building on its existing payment capabilities with Visa.
NIO has unveiled its first smartphone designed specifically for use with its electric vehicles. The NIO Phone offers over 30 car-specific features, including the ability to instruct the car to park itself and unlock the vehicle, even when it is powered off.
Technology group Wärtsilä has been chosen to supply an integrated hybrid propulsion system for two new RoRo vessels being built for Swedish shipping company Stena RoRo. These vessels, which will be the world’s first methanol-fueled hybrid RoRo ships, are under construction at the China Merchants Jinling shipyard. Each vessel will feature two Wärtsilä 32M multi-fuel engines capable of operating on methanol fuel and an ammonia-ready notation.
Autonomous trucking start-up Waabi has entered into a 10-year strategic partnership with Uber Freight, transporting goods between Dallas and Houston. The partnership will eventually transition to a Driver-as-a-Service model, allowing carriers to buy trucks equipped with Waabi’s self-driving technology and participate in the Uber Freight marketplace.
Ford to pause construction on its $3.5 billion plant in Michigan, where it planned to produce electric vehicle batteries using technology from CATL. The decision comes amidst controversy and an ongoing auto workers’ strike. Meanwhile, there is no final decision yet on whether Ford will proceed with the planned investment, and the move has sparked criticism from union members and lawmakers.
South Korean chipmakers, Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, are expected to receive an indefinite extension of permissions to import American chipmaking technology to their Chinese facilities, ending uncertainty caused by export control measures imposed by the Biden Administration. This extension is likely to be announced by Washington officials soon, but potential delays could occur if the US government faces shutdown due to Senate funding disputes.
Maersk has revealed the world’s first container ship with two engines—one powered by traditional fuels and the other by green methanol.
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