Present Uses of Methanol

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Today, methanol is mainly a primary feedstock for the chemical industry. It is manufactured in large quantities (over 32 million tons per year in 2004 [114]) as an intermediate for the production of a variety of chemicals (Fig. 11.1). Worldwide, almost 70% of the methanol production is used to produce formaldehyde (38%), methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE, 20%) and acetic acid (11%). Methanol is also a feedstock for chloromethanes, methylamines, methyl methacrylate, and dimethyl terephthalate, etc. [108]. These chemical intermediates are then processed to manufacture many products of our daily life, including paints, resins, silicones, adhesives, antifreeze, and plastics [115]. Formaldehyde, the largest consumer of methanol, is mainly used to prepare phenol-, urea- and melamine-formaldehyde and polyacetal resins as well as butanediol and methylenebis(4-phenyl isocyanate) (MDI). MDI foam is, for example, used as insulation in refrigerators, doors, and in motor car dashboards and fenders. The formaldehyde resins are then predominantly employed as adhesives in the wood industry in a wide variety of applications, including the manufacture of particle boards, plywood and other wood panels. The market for MTBE, an oxygenated gasoline additive and blending component, which became the second largest for methanol globally, grew strongly during the 1990s, especially in the United States where it accounted in 2001 for 37% of the methanol consumption. Because of its high octane rating it replaced the phased-out lead-based anti-knock compounds. At the same time this oxygenated compound, when added to gasoline, helped to reduce air pollution from motor cars. In recent years however, MTBE has come under serious environmental attacks, especially in California, due to MTBE contamination discovered

Total: 32.1 million tonnes

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde

Methanol Economy

Acetic acid

Figure 11.1 The world demand for methanol in 2005. Based on data from Chemical Week.

Methyl tert-butyl ether

DMT/MMA

Acetic acid

Others 21%

Figure 11.1 The world demand for methanol in 2005. Based on data from Chemical Week.

in groundwater, primarily as the result of leaking underground storage tanks from local filling stations. Increased maintenance, stricter control or replacement of these tanks would certainly have gone a long way in solving this problem. Nevertheless, as a consequence of the contamination, the use of MTBE has been phased out in most of the United States and will probably also be phased out in other countries. Proposed substitutes include ethanol and ethyl-tert-butyl ether (ETBE). There is also the question of whether or not any oxygenated additives to mitigate air pollution are necessary in reformulated gasoline for today's internal combustion engines which, for the most part, use direct fuel injection systems and oxygen sensors allowing the effective control and substantial reduction of emissions, even without the addition of any oxygenated compounds. This of course, does not negate the fact that oxygenated additives provide superior performance and very clean-burning fuels. Methanol and derived dimethyl ether (DME) have excellent combustion characteristics which make them ideal fuels for today's ICE-driven vehicles [116] and diesel engines, respectively. Establishing an infrastructure for methanol fuels would also greatly ease the introduction of advanced fuel cell-based vehicles using methanol as a fuel either by onboard reforming to hydrogen or directly with Direct Methanol Fuel Cells. Thus, methanol as a transportation fuel will certainly play an increasing role in the future.

Use of Methanol and Dimethyl Ether as Transportation Fuels | 177 Use of Methanol and Dimethyl Ether as Transportation Fuels

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