Emissions from Methanol Powered Vehicles

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Transportation-associated air pollution is a major problem in large metropolitan areas. CO, NOx, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), SO2 and particulate matter (PM) emitted by automobiles, trucks and buses can have serious effects on the population's health, especially in children, elderly and other sensitive persons. As described earlier, the use of clean-burning methanol in ICEs could immediately help to reduce these emissions [173]. Included in the VOCs is formaldehyde, an air-toxic and ozone precursor (it is present naturally in low concentrations in the atmosphere) that is produced in small quantities by the incomplete combustion of not only gasoline and diesel but also methanol, and is classified as a possible carcinogen. The issue of formaldehyde formation in methanol-powered ICEs has been successfully addressed by the development and use of a highly effective catalytic muffler to remove the relatively reactive formaldehyde by catalytic oxidation. One should bear in mind that, although methanol is an inherently cleaner fuel, gasoline- and diesel-fueled ICE vehicles have made - and will continue to make through improved technology - considerable progress in emission control, and thus effectively compete with alternative fuels. In ICE cars however, due to the sophistication of the systems needed to keep emissions low, a lack of proper maintenance and regular inspection can easily lead to dramatically higher emissions as the vehicle ages.

In the long term the use of methanol-powered FCVs offers the promise almost to eliminate all current air pollutants from vehicles. Furthermore, unlike ICE vehicles the emission profile of methanol-powered vehicles will remain almost unchanged as they age. Emissions of methanol FCVs equipped with an onboard methanol reformer are expected to be even much lower than the already stringent limits set by the State of California for Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (SULEV) (Fig. 11.15). Direct methanol FCVs are expected to be virtually zero emission vehicles (ZEV) [119]. Tests conducted with Georgetown University's reformed methanol fuel cell bus have shown that it is almost a ZEV, releasing only negligible amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, and no NOx or PM [174].

Figure 11.15 Pollutant emission from methanol-powered fuel cell buses. (Source: Georgetown University.)

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