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China’s Growing Use of Methanol as a Cleaner Alternative to Gasoline

As China’s economy has grown over the past decade at a breakneck pace it has struggled to match the increasing demand for fuel for cars that its people are buying in ever greater numbers. In an effort to solve this problem the Chinese looked for an alternative liquid fuel source and settled on methanol.

In less than a decade China’s methanol use in the transportation sector has grown from virtually zero to providing 8% of the country’s fuel supply, and reducing the demand of gasoline by a fairly large amount.

Methanol can be used with existing energy infrastructure, and can also be used in modern internal combustion engines as part of a methanol fuel blend. The first methanol plant in China was initiated by Sino-American Scientific Collaboration in 1995, but growth in demand has only really picked up since 2009 when national fuel blending standards went into effect, calling for the methanol to be directly blended with gasoline.

Related article: Ethanol Mandate: Jumping the Gun in a Big Way

Peng Zhi Gui, the former Deputy Governor of the Shanxi Province, said that “methanol is seen as a strategic fuel by the rapidly growing nation due to its clean fuel benefits, favourable economics, the ease of adopting methanol in current fuelling infrastructure and the advantage of being able to use alternative feed stocks in a nation that is lacking in domestic oil reserves.”

Methanol is the simplest alcohol, with the lowest carbon content and highest hydrogen content of any other liquid fuel out there. It burns much cleaner than gasoline, releasing very few toxic emissions, and virtually no harmful substances such as benzene, xylene, and other particulate matter.

In the 1980s and ‘90s methanol was more popular than ethanol in the US, and was pushed by the state of California as the new fuel for cars. It was the US that led to the initial interest in methanol in China. No one really knows why methanol policies and production in the US disappeared in favour of ethanol.

China produced 38.4 million tonnes of methanol in 2010 and expect that figure to reach 50 million tonnes by 2015.

By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com

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  • Others on June 12 2013 said:
    So when Chinese can use Methanol, why not the US use more Ethanol, its high time we increase the use of all types of Alcohol fuels : Methanol, Ethanol, Propanol, Butanol.
  • Robert Falco on April 17 2013 said:
    The US should initiate a study of the effects of Chinese use of methanol on the vehicle maintenance levels and on the emission levels of their vehicles, and to ascertain whether any fuel system or engine changes are routinely made by Chinese vehicle manufacturers. It would enable us to more scientifically introduce methanol into our fuel mixture. Methanol, ethanol and gasoline can be blended in almost unlimited proportions, and we have large reserves of natural gas from which methanol is most often made worldwide (although the Chinese use coal). The changes in new vehicles would cost very little, and as Lotus engineering reports (see SAE papers by Turner et al.) current Flex Fueled vehicles (so far 14,000,000) can use up to 50% methanol with no adjustments. A mixture of ethanol and methanol would enable us to completely get off foreign oil needs. At present we can't do this from available corn ethanol, and cellulosic ethanol production, while proceeding, is in its infancy.
  • jon on April 17 2013 said:
    Whilst the agricultural lobby is doubtless very strong I suspect the forestry lobby is no weakling - methanol is otherwise known as wood alcohol. My feeling is that the oil lobby is stronger than both combined.
  • jbutzi on April 16 2013 said:
    "No one really knows why methanol policies and production in the US disappeared in favour of ethanol."
    Maybe it has something to do with corn... Is that too obvious?

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