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Methanol - a fuel for sustainable


A project proposal submitted by


Under the framework of :

KIC InnoEnergy Innovation Projects
(Sponsored by KIC InnoEnergy)
In the thematic field of:
Energy from Chemical Fuels

Methanol -a fuel for sustainable transportation



Why Methanol?

Current Situation

Project Description

Expected Outcomes


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Methanol -a fuel for sustainable transportation

1. To use methanol as a fuel for sustainable transition from fossil fuel based economy
to renewable energy based economy and also bridge the gap to a hydrogen based
2. To promote methanol as a positive catalyst to provide security in fuel supply and
independence from oil monopoly in transport sector using the extant infrastructure.
3. To contribute to the low carbon strategy of the EU by use of methanol to decarbonise the transportation sector.

Methanol is a colorless, water soluble liquid with a mild alcoholic odour. Containing only
one carbon atom, methanol is the simplest of all alcohols. During the world war era,
synthetic methanol produced from coal was blended with gasoline as a fuel. Methanol
gasoline blends were used by Volkswagen and had shown significant improvement in cars
performance [1]. During 1990s, different technological advances were achieved and this
reduced the emission problems and at the same time, decreased interest in methanol
based fuels. Today, methanol is mainly used as a primary feedstock for the chemical
industry with an approximate 70 million ton market per year. This clearly shows it has
all the necessary infrastructure in place. With the dwindling crude oil reserves, a new fuel
which has the potential to supplant the fossil fuel economy is required. Methanol, being
the simplest, safest and easiest to store and transport liquid oxygenated hydrocarbon
shows promise in decarbonising the economy as methanol offers an advantage of having
the lowest carbon to hydrogen ratio for liquid fuel under ambient conditions. In addition,
it holds the promise of closing the carbon cycle as it can be produced from renewable
sources and CO2 .
Methanol has already been tested as fuel either directly or in the form of Methyl tertbutyl ether (MTBE) and bio-diesel. Presently, methanol is being tested out as a marine
fuel for powering large size vessel engines [2].
Implementation of methanol as fuel in internal combustion engines (ICE) has been
carried out since decades. It has recently garnered interest in countries like China[3].
However, with emergence of the hybrid technology, micro turbines can be used as a
prime mover in vehicles. Micro-turbines are versatile technical solutions for the production of electrical and thermal power. This term is applied to a new group of small gas
turbines being used to provide on-site power and becoming an attractive option to feed
the load of small users.
Most microturbines with a power range from 20 kW to 250 kW are based on technologies that were originally developed for the use in auxiliary power systems, aircrafts
or automotive turbochargers.
The following are the advantages of micro-turbines [4]:
1. Simple, compact systems - directly connected to high-speed turbo generators
2. Low emissions with multi-fuel capability
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Methanol -a fuel for sustainable transportation

3. Low investment costs

4. Reduced maintenance costs
Walmart has already showcased this technology in their trucks [5]. However, the fuel
used is diesel. Methanol having a carbon to hydrogen ratio of 0.25 compared to 0.47 of
diesel can be a potential fuel to such a system. The present study involves the use of
methanol in a micro-turbine to power automobiles.

Why Methanol?
Methanol is a hydrocarbon which can be produced from numerous sources like syn-gas,
oxidative conversion of methane and reductive hydrogenative conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2 ). The chemical recycling of excess CO2 would also help to mitigate the climate
changes caused by use of fossil fuels [6]. Methanol storage and distribution can be similar
to present day fueling infrastructure reflecting very small changes to consumers habits.
In United States (US), methanol pumps can be added to one-fourth of service stations for
$ 3 billion which is a fraction of amount spent by US to introduce reformulated gasoline
to service stations. Transportation of methanol through out the world can be carried
out using dedicated methanol ocean tankers. When transported in such large vessels, the
cost of shipping methanol will be similar to that of crude oil.
Methanol (MeOH) also provides an unique advantage of increase in heat of combustion
when catalytically decomposed to produce carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2 ).
This is quantitatively shown in the figure below.

Figure 1: Comparison between Methanol and Syngas

Source : HyDragon

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Methanol -a fuel for sustainable transportation

It is clearly evident that conversion of methanol to syngas is advantageous. However,

the reaction is endo-thermic and heat has to be supplied for the decomposition reaction.
Using low grade waste heat from the system to boost formation of syngas is a feasible
Other advantages of methanol include lowest possible carbon to hydrogen ratio for a liquid
fuel, low particulate emissions and low carbon footprint which can even be transformed
to negative carbon footprint when the source of methanol is excess CO2 in atmosphere.
The only concern with methanol is that it is toxic to human body. Use of technologies like spill free nozzles eliminates this hazard to a great extent. With the advancement
in medical domain, several treatments are available to combat methanol poisoning and
these generally lead to complete recovery if administered in a timely manner [7].

Current Situation
Although in general, all commercially available microturbine systems have the potential
to be operated with liquid fuels, currently only few microturbines does exist which is
specified by the producer for the use of liquid fuels [8]. Several research and demonstration units investigate the technical and emission properties of liquid fuel systems. Two
Turbec T100 units are operated on methanol (produced from natural gas) by the Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil ASA. This demonstration project is implemented in
the framework of the EC co-funded project Optimised Microturbine Energy Systems OMES, and its main aim is to introduce methanol (as innovative energy carrier) to the
fuel market for distributed electricity and heat production [9]. According to the tests,
methanol fired microturbines showed comparable results with gas turbines. Hence, it
can be concluded that methanol fired microturbines are competitive in the present day
McDonald and Rodgers have shown that micro turbines can be the source of power
in 21st century [10]. Researchers at ICR Tec have studied the use of gas turbines in automotive applications [11]. The microturbines have shown higher efficiencies than existing
normal diesel engine. Advanced Gas Turbine for Automobile (AGATA) project of European Union and Automotive ceramic gas turbine development program of Petroleum Energy Center in Japan have shown the potential of gas turbine in automotive sector[12,13].
From the previous literature, it is seen that both the above ideas are never implemented
together. Added to this, in a microturbine, the waste heat is concentrated in the exhaust
and hence, can be easily utilized for the decomposition of methanol to boost the heat
of combustion as explained earlier. The remaining waste heat can be utilized for space
heating of the vehicle. The present project tries to investigate these approaches.

Project Description
The schematic diagram obtained from HyDragon [14] is shown below.

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Figure 2: Schematic Diagram

This project aims at studying the use of methanol in microturbines for automotive
applications. Theoretical model as shown in the schematic diagram will be developed to
study the performance and emissions of the system. MATLAB, a commercially available
computational software package will be used for the purpose. Brayton cycle for the turbine will be modeled using real working fluid assumptions. Thermodynamic properties
through out the cycle will be calculated using JANAF tables for a specific temperature
and pressure. Methanol splitter will be numerically simulated using a heat exchanger
model developed applying finite difference methods. The simulation results will be validated using experiments for few cases and conclusions will be drawn.

Expected Outcomes
The following are the expected outcomes of this project:
Understand the behaviour of methanol decomposition and its use in a microturbine.
Provide the market with an alternative solution for power generation
Try to bridge the gap towards hydrogen economy.
Help in sustainable transition from one economy to another.

Scope for future improvements

Develop organic Rankine cycle for further waste heat recovery from exhaust after
the recuperator in stationary applications.
Support gradual transformation to Hybrid vehicles and Fuel cell vehicles (FCV)

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Methanol -a fuel for sustainable transportation

1. Bernton, H., Kovarik, B., & Sklar, S. (1982). The Forbidden Fuel: A History of
Power Alcohol. University of Nebraska Press.
2. Stena Line
3. Methanol cars in China
6. Olah, G. A., Goeppert, A., & Prakash, G. S. (2011). Beyond oil and gas: the
methanol economy. John Wiley & Sons.
7. McNicol, B. D., Rand, D. A. J., & Williams, K. R. (2001). Fuel cells for road
transportation purposes?yes or no?. Journal of Power Sources, 100(1), 47-59.
9. OMES Project
10. McDonald, C. F., & Rodgers, C. (2001, June). The ubiquitous personal turbine
(PT): a power vision for the 21st century. In ASME Turbo Expo 2001: Power
for Land, Sea, and Air (pp. V002T04A011-V002T04A011). American Society of
Mechanical Engineers.
11. Dewis, D. W. (2011, January). ICR350: A Turbine Solution for Medium and Heavy
Duty Vehicles. In ASME 2011 Turbo Expo: Turbine Technical Conference and Exposition (pp. 823-832). American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
12. Lundberg, R., Ferrato, M., & EXPO, A. T. (1999). Ceramic component development for AGATA. ASME paper, (99-GT), 392.
13. Nakazawa, N., Sasaki, M., Nishiyama, T., Iwai, M., Katagiri, H., & Handa, N.
(1997, June). Status of the Automotive Ceramic Gas Turbine Development Program Seven Years Progress. In ASME 1997 International Gas Turbine and Aeroengine Congress and Exhibition (pp. V001T04A008-V001T04A008). American
Society of Mechanical Engineers.

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