China is betting big on another gasoline-powered alternative: the methanol car
Today, the leading company that produces methanol from carbon dioxide is Carbon Recycling International, an Icelandic company. Geely invested in CRI in 2015 and they teamed up to build the world’s largest CO2– Fuel factory in China. When running, it can recycle 160,000 tons of CO2 emissions from steel mills every year.
The potential for clean production is what makes methanol so desirable as a fuel. It is not only a more efficient way to use energy but also a way to remove existing CO2 From the air. To achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, as China has promised, it cannot put all its eggs in one basket, like electric cars. The widespread use of methanol fuel and clean production of methanol could help China achieve its goal sooner.
Can methanol move away from its dirty base?
But the future is not all bright and green. Currently, most methanol in China is still produced by burning coal. In fact, the ability to power cars with coal instead of oil, which China doesn’t have much of, is the main reason it pursued methanol in the first place. Today, the Chinese provinces that lead in the methanol automobile experiments are also those with abundant coal resources.
But as Bromberg says, unlike gas and diesel, at least methanol has potential to be green. Methanol production can still be high-carbon emissions today, just as most electric vehicles in China still run on electricity generated from coal. But there is a path to converting from coal-produced methanol to renewable energy-produced methanol.
“If that’s not an intention — if people aren’t going after low-carbon methanol — then you really don’t want to produce methanol at all,” says Bromberg.
Methanol fuel also has other potential drawbacks. It has a lower energy density than gasoline or diesel, requires a larger, heavier fuel tank — or the driver may need to refuel more often. This also effectively prevents methanol from being used as jet fuel.
Furthermore, methanol is very toxic when ingested and is moderately toxic when inhaled or when humans are exposed to it in large amounts. Potential harm was a major concern in the trial program, although the researchers concluded that methanol was no more toxic to the participants than the gas.
In addition to China, several other countries such as Germany and Denmark are also exploring the potential of methanol fuel. However, China is at least one step ahead of the rest – even if it remains a big question as to whether it will replicate its success in developing electric vehicles or follow the path of an electric vehicle. Other countries have large auto industries.
In 1982, California provided subsidies to automakers to produce more than 900 cars with methanol in a pilot program. The Reagan administration even pushed for the Alternative Motor Fuels Act to promote the use of methanol. But a lack of support and falling gasoline prices have prevented further research into methanol fuels, and motorists, although often satisfied with the vehicle’s performance, have complained about the availability of methanol fuels. and a smaller operating range than gas-powered vehicles. California officially ended the use of methanol cars in 2005, and there have been no such trials in the US since.