Higher uptake of methanol-blended gasoline expected


China is set to adopt a national industry standard for methanol-gasoline fuel blends, meaning more of the country’s cars will be powered by methanol, according to policymakers. But transportation and storage problems still form barriers for the fuel’s widespread use.

’A national industrial standard on low-content-methanol gasoline will be released by the Standardisation Administration [of China] in the first half of this year, paving the way for wide application of methanol,’ Jiang Lianbao, a member of the China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Association (CPCIA), told the 2008 Methanol Summit, held in Shanghai on 22 and 23 March. Jiang is the major drafter of the methanol fuel standard, which he says covers gasoline blended with up to 15 per cent methanol. 

Gasoline mixed with 15 per cent methanol is sold 500 yuan (US$71) cheaper than pure gasoline. According to Shi Lei, a senior engineer at Shanxi province’s automobile industry development office, methanol-blended gasoline emits fewer pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and solid particles, than pure gasoline. Domestic automakers have developed engines suitable for methanol-blended gasoline, and the fuel has already been used in northern Chinese provinces like Shanxi, Shaanxi and Heilongjiang - though each province has made up its own industry standards. Nationally unified standards will sort out these market confusions, Jiang says. 

But barriers remain to methanol’s adoption in China. Methanol is usually produced from natural gas, but in China it is mainly made from coal. Long Wei, vice general manager of Jiangsu Province-based methanol dealer Zhanda Chemicals, says long-distance transportation of methanol from its major production areas in the coal-rich northwest to economic centres in southeast China will significantly increase costs. 

’China does not have enough rail transportation capacity for methanol - but if it’s transported by trucks, the cost could be too high,’ Long told Chemistry World. Methanol is a toxic chemical, so transporting, storing, and pumping it to cars could all pose huge difficulties, he adds.

Jiang admits that the fluctuating price of methanol is another problem. Most methanol is currently produced by agrichemical firms, which shift their production to fertilizers in agriculturally busy seasons. That means the price of methanol could move from 2000 yuan (US$286) per tonne to 4000 yuan per tonne in a single year; a price-swing which car users might find hard to stomach. ’But with the rapid development of major coal chemical plants focused on methanol, this problem can be solved,’ says Jiang.

Hepeng Jia

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