Author Archive | Alan Bryce

Dr. Ernest Moniz’s views on methanol as a transportation fuel

Dr. Ernest Moniz, distinguished MIT professor and President Barrack Obama’s nominee for US Secretary of Energy, played an integral role in a 2010 MIT study that concluded that methanol is the ‘liquid fuel most efficiently and inexpensively produced from natural gas.’ A portion of the record from the April 9th Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources hearing on his nomination is featured below. This excerpt certainly supports the views of supporters of the Open Fuel Standard and the adoption of methanol as a transportation fuel.


SEN. CANTWELL: As I understand it, today the U.S. produces roughly 280 million gallons of methanol, primarily from the steam reformation of natural gas, and by 2015 that number will increase to one billion gallons. On the ground that means three methanol plants will be reactivated in Texas and a fourth will be moved from Chile to Louisiana to take advantage of today’s lower natural gas costs. In a study published in 2010, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that methanol was the ‘liquid fuel most efficiently and inexpensively produced from natural gas,’ and they recommended methanol as the most effective way to integrate natural gas into our transportation economy.

Dr, Moniz, I would appreciate knowing if you were involved with this study and your personal views as to the potential of using methanol to power our transportation system given America’s now abundant supplies of cheap natural gas. I understand that at today’s natural gas prices methanol costs about 35 cents a gallon to produce, and for the past five years the wholesale price for natural gas-derived methanol has ranged between $1.05 and $1.15 a gallon. How do you think the price of methanol will change over the next decade as the price of natural gas changes?

DR. MONIZ: I was the co-director of this study. Its findings and recommendations were achieved by the consensus of the 19 faculty and senior researchers involved in the study. The U.S. has significantly increased domestic natural gas and oil production over the last several years, with important implications and possible opportunities for diversifying the nation’s transportation fuel mix. This diversification remains an economic and national security imperative. The President’s All-of-the-Above Energy policy supports more choices for Americans among available modes of transportation and types of fuel.

There are many conversion routes for deriving liquid fuels from natural gas. Methanol is simplest and, like ethanol, needs modest engine modifications for flex fuel operation (possibly even tri-flex-fuel). More complex and costly conversion could yield “drop-in” fuels. If confirmed, I am committed to exploring the safe and environmentally sustainable development of all economically viable transportation fuels to increase consumer choice, reduce prices, improve our balance of trade, and enhance national security. Clearly higher natural gas prices would increase methanol costs, and conversely for lower prices. While I won’t speculate on the future price of methanol, I appreciate both the economic and diversity benefits of methanol as a transportation fuel, as well as the challenges it poses to both fueling infrastructure and vehicle design, especially in the context of ability to meet future environmental emissions standards over a wide range of tri-flex-fuel operation.

SEN. CANTWELL: The seminal Massachusetts Institute of Technology Institute report entitled “The Future of Natural Gas 2011” found that “methanol could be used in tri-flexible-fuel, light-duty (and heavy-duty) vehicles in a manner similar to present ethanol-gasoline flex fuel vehicles, with modest incremental vehicle cost. These tri-flex-fuel vehicles could be operated on a wide range of mixtures of methanol, ethanol and gasoline. For long distance driving, gasoline could be used in the flex-fuel engine to maximize range. Present ethanol-gasoline flex-fuel vehicles in the U.S. are sold at the same price as their gasoline counterparts. Adding methanol capability to a factory 85% ethanol blend (E85) vehicle, to create tri-flex fuel capability, would require an air/fuel mixture control to accommodate an expanded fuel/air range with addition of an alcohol sensor and would result in an extra cost of $100 to $200, most likely at the lower end of that range with sufficient production.” Dr. Moniz, were you involved with this study and do you generally agree with its conclusions? What can DOE do to promote greater adoption of tri-flexible-fuel vehicles?

DR. MONIZ: I was the co-director of this study. Its findings and recommendations were achieved by the consensus of the 19 faculty and senior researchers involved in the study. Flex fuel vehicles were also a topic discussed in detail at a MIT symposium last year. Such vehicles may help enhance US energy security by diversifying our sources of liquid fuels. If confirmed, I would recommend that this technology pathway be examined in the Quadrennial Energy Review.

Israel planning to put M15 and M57 on the market

Given Israel’s adversarial relationship with its oil-producing neighbours — and recent discoveries of sizeable reserves of natural gas just off its coast — for energy and military security and economic reasons, this country of 8 million is determined to reduce its dependency on gasoline and diesel to power its vehicles. The goal of Israel’s Alternative Fuels Initiative in the Prime Minister’s Office is to reduce this dependency by 30% by 2020 and by 60% by 2025. Given the country’s natural gas resource and irrefutable tenacity, only the truly unwise would bet against it meeting this goal.

Ken Rosner of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) has recently written an article about Israel’s plans to introduce alternative fuels into the transportation sector, pointing out that methanol is one of the key alternative fuels on the horizon. After completion of trials with M15 and M57-fueled cars, Israel expects to put these fuels on the market in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Click here for a detailed look at Israel’s plans.

Gealy Auto leads the way in China with methanol cars

Geely Auto is a pioneering, privately owned Chinese automaker that is an industry leader on many fronts — including the introduction of methanol-fueled cars. Geely has been doing R&D on methanol vehicles since 2005, and at this year’s Shanghai Auto show let the world know about its progress with the methanol-fueled Englon SC7, 100 of which are currently being used as taxis in Jinzhong City. Click here to read more about this new car.

Speaking of methanol-fueled taxis in China, an article in the China Daily states that in the city of Guiyang, more than 650 methanol-fueled taxis are plying the roads.

TIAX white paper: Methanol as a Renewable Energy Resource

The Methanol Institute (MI) commissioned TIAX, a lab-based technology company in California focused on advancing innovations in energy storage and transportation (among other things), to write a report on how methanol can be produced renewably in order to reduce transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions. From Blue Fuel Energy’s perspective, MI’s interest in highlighting renewable methanol is a very positive development in and of itself. Even more positive are the contents of the report, titled Methanol as a Renewable Energy Resource and released in January of this year. The report makes it clear that the production of renewable methanol using a diverse range of feedstocks (including CO2) is gaining a foothold in various parts of the world, including the Netherlands (BioMCN), Canada (Blue Fuel Energy and Enerkem), Iceland (Carbon Recycling International), and Sweden (VarmlandsMetanol). Click here to read Methanol as a Renewable Energy Resource in its entirety.


Consumption of fuel methanol in China to soar

According to an April 4, 2013 article on, if the Chinese government implements later this year its plan to mandate  a 15% methanol/85% gasoline blend, by 2015 the consumption of  methanol in the country will double over 2012 levels. Should this extraordinary surge in consumption of methanol as a transportation fuel be realized, it will reinforce the arguments of proponents of the Open Fuel Standard in the US and greatly help efforts around the world to make methanol a mainstream transportation fuel. It would appear that now is a good time to become a large-scale producer of methanol . . .

Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address


President Obama’s February 12, 2013 State of the Union address no doubt raised the eyebrows of a few proponents of methanol as a transportation fuel. The lines that did it for me are as follows:

After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future  . . .  

. . . the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence

. . . I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.  If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we.

Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long.

By focusing on the concepts of the US gaining control of its energy future and obtaining greater energy independence, the president clearly tells Americans that he is seeking to further reduce oil imports and increase domestic production of transportation fuels. Nothing surprising about that. He also states that he wants to eliminate painful spikes in gasoline prices, a position that many Americans don’t realize renders problematic the use of domestic oil as the primary source of transportation fuel because oil is a fungible commodity with a global price that the US cannot control. The president backs this up by saying he wants to shift transportation away from oil — for good.

The above statements make it clear that the president sees that natural gas has a critical role to play in the transportation sector. Interestingly, he follows his remarks about shifting away from oil with a cryptic reference to a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals. This is a nod at using natural gas to produce methanol, a pathway endorsed by the Military Advisory Board (comprised of retired generals and admirals), and several organizations supported by prominent of CEOs and retired military/security brass. From my perspective, the president’s 2013 State of the Union address demonstrates that he has been listening to sage advice and understands that methanol will eventually become a mainstream transportation fuel in the US. All that’s now required is passage of the Open Fuel Standard Act . . .


The simple truth about OPEC

As a blogger I regularly read a host of other blogs. One of the most insightful on the use of methanol as a transportation fuel is on The February 8 entry of this blog succinctly states why the Open Fuel Standard must be adopted in the US and should be read by all.

“OPEC was created in order to raise world oil prices. Many conspiracies are only theories. This one is a fact. The OPEC nations do quite a bit of dissembling (to confuse the general public), but they act in the open and make no secret of their intentions. The oil ministers of the 12 OPEC nations meet at least twice a year to decide how much to limit their oil production in order to keep the world’s price of oil high.

The result of high oil prices is the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the world — from the free world to some of the worst regimes on Earth (and the wealthiest rulers in history).

The only thing keeping this whole game going is an artificial limit on our cars. Internal combustion engines can burn ethanol, methanol and gasoline in any proportion with a minor tweak to the fuel delivery system. The Open Fuel Standard would make that tweak mandatory, and thus create a free market and break the monopoly.

There may have never been such a small change that could bring about so many significant benefits.” 

Open Fuel Standard

In 2011, the US spent $460 billion on imported oil, empowering OPEC while stifling the domestic economy and job creation. It also spent hundreds of billions more on the military to secure this supply, compounding the national debt. America’s addiction to imported oil is weakening the country — and, by extension, Canada, its number one trading partner.

In November 2012, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projected that, as a result of advances in hydraulic fracturing, by 2015 the US will become the world’s largest natural gas producer, and by 2017, the world’s largest oil producer. That said, it also predicts that the US will simply rely less on imports, with the nation becoming the fourth-­largest oil importer in the world soon after 2030, down from its second place ranking today. Given oil’s monopoly in the transportation fuels market, demand for oil will remain robust and, by varying production, OPEC will continue to manipulate the price of oil — and exert inordinate control over the global economy.

There’s but one way to cast off OPEC’s tight grip: give consumers a choice at the pump. And there’s but one way to offer them this choice: mandate that automakers produce cars that can run on alternative fuels. That’s exactly what the Open Fuel Standard Act of 2011, now in committee in the US House of Representatives, is designed to do. A bipartisan bill, the Open Fuel Standard (OFS) mandates that an escalating percentage of light-­duty passenger vehicles sold in the US be either fully flex-fuel (capable of burning gasoline, ethanol, and methanol, or any combination of these), or natural gas, hydrogen, biodiesel, plug-­in electric, or fuel cell. Implementation of the OFS will generate intense competition in the transportation fuels market — and end oil’s monopoly and strategic status.

Given that the US is poised to become the world’s largest natural gas producer in 2015, will natural gas be the alternate fuel to end oil’s monopoly? No — not directly. Natural gas requires a major and prohibitively expensive retooling of cars and fuelling infrastructure. There’s a much better option. Use natural gas to produce methanol, a high-­octane fuel that powered cars on American roads for millions of miles in the 80s and 90s. Automakers can produce cars warranted to run on methanol — and ethanol and gasoline — for an additional $70 above the cost of a gasoline-­only car. All that’s needed is a fuel sensor and fuel lines that are non-­corrosive to methanol. No new technology is required. And because methanol is a liquid, infrastructure changes are minor. With methanol as a choice at the pump, fuel prices will drop, consumers will have more money in their pockets, and the global economy will be jolted to life. Even the environment will benefit as methanol is cleaner burning than gasoline — and, when made from biomass, municipal waste, and carbon dioxide emissions, has a much lower carbon footprint. (Methanol can be made from anything that is, or ever was, a plant.)

Although maintaining the status quo at the pump is clearly in the vested interests of oil companies, automakers too are resisting the OFS, despite the modest cost of meeting its requirements. (But it must be remembered that automakers also resisted seatbelts and fuel economy standards — and are subtly manipulated by Big Oil, which are buying shares and board seats.) As for the farm lobby, which punches well above its weight in the North American energy market thanks to the Renewable Fuel Standard, they support the OFS, envisaging an era when restraints on highly subsidized corn-­based ethanol will be released (while seeming to ignore the many advantages of methanol over ethanol).

Despite the above-­mentioned opposition, America’s current economic plight and the surfeit of inexpensive shale gas dictate that the OFS will be passed. The OFS will be to transportation what the Sherman Anti-trust Act was to communications. In 1982 President Reagan applied the act to break up AT&T’s monopoly, leading to fierce competition in the long-­distance market, producing lower rates for consumers and significant new investments in the fibre-­optic technologies that helped make possible the internet revolution of the 1990s. In the near future, the OFS will lead to the conversion of vast amounts of America’s shale gas to methanol, a process that will reduce fuel prices, reduce the US trade deficit, generate jobs, stimulate the economy and enhance energy security.

Today, China is the undisputed world leader in the use of methanol as a transportation fuel; lacking natural gas, it produces it from coal. Thanks to recent discoveries, however, Israel is flush with natural gas — and has concluded that turning it into methanol is one of the most sensible ways of using it. Gasoline/methanol blends are expected to become available at Israeli gas stations within two years. The power of the Israeli lobby to see the US follow suit is not to be underestimated. Spurred by the Israeli lobby — and common sense — many accomplished, prominent Americans are vigorously promoting the OFS, and methanol. The powerful US Military Advisory Board (MAB) also endorses methanol.

When the US adopts the OFS, automakers around the world will start producing fully flex-fuel vehicles in order to maintain their access to the US market. The OFS will dramatically change the global transportation fuels landscape, yet here in Canada politicians and energy industry players remain uninformed. The OFS represents an extraordinary opportunity for Canada to convert its shale gas (which desperately needs markets) into a wealth-­generating, value-­added product. Canada is lagging behind the competition when it comes to the conversion of shale gas to LNG, and may never find itself well-positioned in this market. We must ensure that this does not happen with the conversion of shale gas to methanol. The Open Fuel Standard is one of the most significant pieces of legislation to hit Congress in a generation. It’s high time, Canada, to pay attention. For insights, read

Israel plans using methanol as transportation fuel

As a January 13 article in the Jerusalem Post notes, the Israeli cabinet has approved a plan to include M15 as one of the alternative fuels to be introduced into the country’s fuels marketplace. The goal of the plan is to reduce Israel’s dependency on petroleum by 30% by 2020, and by 60% by 2025 — a mere 12 years from now.

The cabinet’s decision is based on the positive results of a pilot test conducted last year by Dor Chemicals and Ten Petroleum using ordinary cars to prove that no changes are required to such cars or to gas stations in order to provide motorists with the M15 option. Dor Chemicals is planning to build a million ton/year methanol plant (US$700) in Israel to take advantage of the country’s large reserves of natural gas just off the coast.

The use of methanol as a transportation fuel in Israel will undoubtedly buoy efforts by advocates of methanol as a transportation fuel in the US and Canada, who see this application as one of the best ways of using the extensive shale gas resources of both countries.