Methanol as a hydrogen-carrier – to green transitions

Growing recognition of the threat posed by man-made climate change has spurred government institutions, industry, and science to find clean fuels to power economic activity. Government legislation on emissions has created challenges for those who need to comply, opening new markets and opportunities for alternative fuels, including methanol.

In 2018, the European Parliament, Council and Commission agreed on the Renewable Energy Directive II (RED II), requiring 14% renewable energy to be used in transport by 2030. In total, 66 countries have put targets or mandates in place. Besides the EU-27, 14 countries in the Americas, 12 countries in Asia Pacific, 11 in Africa and 2 in non-EU countries in Europe all have implemented biofuels adoption policies, some as high as 15 to 27%2 *.

In this context, methanol has risen as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, offering a clear pathway to drastically cutting emissions in power generation, overland transportation, shipping, and industry. Methanol is an outstanding energy delivery mechanism and may therefore be considered as a unique storage medium for sustainable energy. As a result, methanol has become one of the largest commodities and methanol demand is expected to continue to grow. There is a well-established worldwide production with methanol plants in Asia, North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Middle East. Worldwide, over 90 methanol plants have a combined yearly production capacity of about 110 million metric tons (almost 36.6 billion gallons or 138 billion litres). According to renewable methanol provider Nordic Green, the global methanol market exceeds 100 million tons in 2020. The first year that the 100 million tons (125 million m3) barrier was broken**.

The fuel applied for Serene fuel cells is a pre-mix consisting of 60 % methanol and 40 % demineralized and de-ionized water (on a volume basis). This mixture provides many advantages as an energy-carrier, since it is less flammable than pure methanol and, therefore cheaper to transport. Moreover, there is no water condenser needed, which again means lower weight, higher efficiency, and lower cost compared to pure methanol.

The cleanest methanol variant is defined as green or renewable methanol: Bio-methanol or  E-methanol (see illustration below on this page). Compared to conventional fuels, renewable methanol cuts carbon dioxide emissions by up to 95%, reduces nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 80%, and eliminates sulphur oxide and particulate matter emissions. Both methanols are available by Advent Technologies A/S.

* https://www.methanol.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/MethanolReport.pdf

** https://www.methanol.org/the-methanol-industry/

The pre-mixture by Advent Technologies A/S provides many advantages, since it is less flammable (fire class II) than pure methanol and, therefore cheaper to transport. Moreover, there is no water condenser needed, which again means lower weight resulting in higher efficiency.

It can be distributed in the same way such as gasoline and diesel and thus possible to ship by land/ sea and air – available in 20 and 1000 Liters containers in European countries and worldwide.

We offer also green (Bio-methanol) and e-methanols. Pls. contact our sales for for further inquiries via contact form here 

Methanol Types

Methanol as a carrier to hydrogen poses key advantages to the simplicity of storage (handling and logistics) plus safety. Within the range of green methanols as carrier to hydrogen, various types of exist, their ability to reduce CO2 vary.

Methanol Vision explained

Methanol storage based on green energy sources allows for an almost 100% CO2 reducing Power Technolology

The world as we know it today utilizes many different energy carriers. Gasses, liquids or solid, depending on the availability and application requirements. Reducing the CO2 emissions requires a substantiality amount of renewable energy from solar and wind – this will be electrical energy, and will be fluctuating on hour-hour, day-day, and season-season basis. The energy cannot be stored in the electrical energy grid, nor can we expect to transport only in the electrical power lines. To utilize the energy, and to become carbon neutral, we must be able to store and distribute huge amount of energies from sector to sector. This is often referred to as Power-To-X.

Looking into sustainable energy carriers, some are more applicable – methanol is one of the most promising carriers, as it can be made from bio mass and renewable sources with low losses.  It is easy and safe to handle and store, and logistics are similar to what we know today from diesel and gasoline.

Methanol Vision explained

The vision of methanol is illustrated here. From the left the green energy sources for methanol production is shown. In the production of methanol, hydrogen and carbon are required, either separated molecules or as longer hydro carbon chains. The sources can be either hydrogen from water electrolysis, combined with CO2 from either industrial carbon capture, or direct air carbon capture, or bio-mass.

The methanol can be easily stored and distributed with similar methods as we know from fossil fuels like gasoline or diesel. With the Serene product, applications can be powered directly from methanol, enabling low carbon emissions. The applications ranges from small genset to large industrial installations.

Our Serene fuel cells themselves do not emit CO2. When running on green or e-methanols, Serene fuel cells are a perfect match to world-wide applications, now in need to commerce or continue their green transitions based on sustainable infrastructures with up to 95 per cent or even higher levels of CO2 reductions by implementing our technologies.

Pros and Cons of Methanol*

Pros

  • Commonly produced on an industrial scale with high yields and efficiency from various carbon-containing feedstock. Natural gas and coal today; biomass, solid waste, and CO2 + H2 tomorrow.
  • No inherent technical challenges in scaling up the production of methanol to meet the needs of the transport or chemical industry sectors.

Cons

  • Production from coal has a large carbon footprint.
  • Production of renewable methanol remains more expensive than fossil methanol.
  • Production of renewable methanol needs to be scaled up.
  • Competition for renewable feedstock (biomass, CO2, renewable power) with other renewable alternatives.

Pros

  • Methanol is a liquid. This makes it easy to store, transport and distribute by ship, pipeline, truck, and rail.
  • Requirements for methanol storage and transport are similar to other flammable liquids such as gasoline, jet fuel, and ethanol.
  • Methanol used as an automotive fuel can be dispensed in regular filling stations, requiring only minimal and relatively inexpensive modifications.
  • When properly stored methanol is stable, and its shelf life is indefinite.

Cons

  • Can be corrosive to some metals such as aluminum, copper, zinc, titanium, and some of their alloys. Methanol may also attack some plastics, resins and rubbers. Compatible metals, plastics, and elastomer materials must be selected.
  • Methanol can absorb moisture from the atmosphere. To prevent this, methanol should be stored in a sealed container with an allowance for thermal expansion (larger tank, floating roof tank, pressure relief valve). Moisture absorbed by neat methanol is fully miscible and is retained as a single phase that does not affect combustion. Moisture absorbed by gasoline-methanol blends, however, can form immiscible phases. If the amount of water is small, it has little effect on combustion, but larger amounts of water phase material may interfere with combustion.

Pros

  • Growing market for methanol use as a fuel. Currently about 31% of methanol demand.
  • Bunkering of methanol already widely available in many ports around the world.
  • Can be used in a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) to produce electricity.
  • Good liquid hydrogen carrier (one liter of methanol contains more hydrogen than a liter of liquid hydrogen). Methanol is easily reformed to hydrogen for use in fuel cells (reformed methanol fuel cells).
  • Good liquid hydrogen carrier (one liter of methanol contains more hydrogen than a liter of liquid hydrogen). Methanol is easily reformed to hydrogen for use in fuel cells (reformed methanol fuel cells).

Cons

  • Competition with established fuels (gasoline, diesel) as well as alternatives including electrification, hydrogen, biofuels, CNG, LPG, etc.
  • Relatively low volumetric energy content compared to some fuels. About half the volumetric energy density of gasoline and diesel fuel.
  • Competing technologies (e.g. selective catalytic reduction, scrubber, filter, exhaust recirculation systems).
  • Competing fuels (e.g., low-sulphur fuel oil, low-sulphur distillate fuels, LNG, hydrogen, ammonia).

Pros

  • High octane rating (RON of 109) and high knocking resistance. Allows the engine to run at high compression ratios for higher efficiency.
  • High oxygen content (avoids fuel-rich combustion zones).
  • High heat of evaporation.
  • Low lean flammability limit.
  • High volatility.
  • Compatible with hybrid (fuel/electric) systems and vehicles.

Cons

  • Methanol has low vapour pressure at low temperatures. Cold start system or higher vapour pressure additives might be needed.
  • Poor lubrication properties.

Pros

  • Methanol can be used in combustion ignition (diesel) engines.
  • Dimethyl ether derived from methanol is a substitute for diesel fuel (high cetane number). Methanol is also a main component of biodiesel (biodiesel is obtained by transesterification of plant oil and animal fats with an alcohol). Oxymethylene ethers (OME) derived from methanol are also being tested as diesel substitutes.

Cons

  • Neat methanol is a poor diesel substitute (very low cetane number). To be used in diesel-type engines it needs glow plugs, additives or co-injection of small quantities of diesel (~5%) to ignite when compressed.
  • Methanol fuel standards need to be expanded to allow for wider use in more countries and for more applications.

Pros

Lower pollutant emissions when combusted:

  • No carbon-carbon bonds allow for soot-free combustion (no PM).
  • No SOx.
  • Lower NOx.
  • Low-carbon and renewable methanol can provide reduced overall CO2 emissions compared to fossil fuels.

Cons

  • Incomplete combustion can lead to formaldehyde and formic acid pollutants.

Pros

  • Methanol is water soluble and readily biodegradable. Methanol dissolves completely in water. When released into water, it will rapidly disperse to low concentrations, allowing micro-organisms occurring naturally to degrade it in a relatively short time.
  • Methanol is used in water treatment plants for denitrification. Methanol is an energy source for the organisms breaking down the nitrogen-containing compounds present in wastewater.
  • Methanol is a naturally occurring substance which does not bio-accumulate.
  • Non-environmentally hazardous according to the dangerous goods regulations.

Cons

  • Spillage to the environment. When released into soil, methanol could enter groundwater. However, because methanol is readily biodegradable its accumulation in soil or groundwater is unlikely.

Pros

  • Safer fuel in fires than gasoline. Methanol generates less heat and transfers less of the heat to the surroundings. Methanol fires can be extinguished with water or alcohol- resistant foams.
  • Methanol in small concentrations is present naturally in the human body and food and drinks such as fruits, vegetables, beer, wine, etc.

Cons

  • Highly flammable. Burns with a low-temperature non-luminous clear blue flame that might be difficult to see in bright light. Combustion is also smokeless.
  • Can form explosive mixture in air.
  • Toxic. Toxic exposure can occur by inhalation, skin and eye contact and ingestion. Ingestion of more than 20 mL can be lethal; lesser amounts are known to cause irreversible blindness.

* “Innovation Outlook, Renewable, Methanol, IRENA and Methanol Institute, 2021”, p. 109-115

Fit for the green transition?

Download our guide: “Fit for the green transition?” to map your company’s opportunities transitioning to clean power by Advent.

The guide is intended to help you consider and initiate the transition to clean and renewable energy and presenting by Advent a viable catalyst; methanol-based fuel cells for your future, alternative energy practice.

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