Methanol is a nondrinking type of alcohol (also known as wood alcohol and methyl alcohol) which is mostly used to create fuel, solvents and antifreeze. A colorless liquid, it is volatile, flammable, and unlike ethanol, poisonous for human consumption. Methanol is also used to produce a variety of other chemicals, including acetic acid.
Small amounts of methanol occur naturally in many living organisms as part of their metabolic processes. For example, methanol occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables.
Uses of Methanol
Methanol has chemical properties which allow it to lower the freezing point of a water-based liquid and increase its boiling point. These attributes lead methanol to be used as an antifreeze in windshield washer fluid to keep the cleaning fluid from freezing. It is also injected in natural gas pipelines, where it lowers the freezing point of water during oil and gas transport.
Methanol is primarily used as an industrial solvent to help create inks, resins, adhesives, and dyes. It is also used as a solvent in the manufacture of important pharmaceutical ingredients and products such as cholesterol, streptomycin, vitamins and hormones.
Roughly 45 percent of the world’s methanol is used in energy-related applications. Methanol can be used as a type of vehicle fuel or marine fuel for boats. It can also be blended into gasoline to produce an efficient fuel known as methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) which can have lower emissions than conventional gasoline. Methanol also is used in biodiesel, a renewable type of fuel made from plants or animal fats that can be used in place of, or blended into, conventional fuel.
Methanol occurs naturally in many foods, including fruits and vegetables. Dietary methanol helps to regulate human gene activity. It is also created in the human digestive system to help metabolize food.