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Infobox on Methanol
Example of Methanol
Origin -
Stowage factor (in m3/t) -
Humidity / moisture -
Ventilation -
Risk factors See text


Description / Application

Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha or wood spirits, is a chemical with the formula CH3OH (often abbreviated MeOH). It is the simplest alcohol, and is a light, volatile, colourless, flammable liquid with a distinctive odour very similar to, but slightly sweeter than, ethanol (drinking alcohol). At room temperature, it is a polar liquid, and is used as an antifreeze, solvent, fuel, and as a denaturant for ethanol. It is also used for producing biodiesel via transesterification reaction.

Methanol is produced naturally in the anaerobic metabolism of many varieties of bacteria, and is ubiquitous in the environment. As a result, there is a small fraction of methanol vapour in the atmosphere. Over the course of several days, atmospheric methanol is oxidized with the help of sunlight to carbon dioxide and water.

Derivation is chiefly by high-pressure catalytic synthesis from carbon monoxide and hydrogen; partial oxidation of natural gas hydrocarbons.

Methanol ingested in large quantities is metabolized to formic acid or formate salts, which is poisonous to the central nervous system, and may cause blindness, coma, and death.


The largest use of methanol by far is in making other chemicals. About 40% of methanol is converted to formaldehyde, and from there into products as diverse as plastics, plywood, paints, explosives, and permanent press textiles.

Other applications
Methanol is a traditional denaturant for ethanol, the product being known as "denatured alcohol" or "methylated spirit". This was commonly used during the Prohibition to discourage consumption of bootlegged liquor, and ended up causing several deaths.

Methanol is also used as a solvent, and as an antifreeze in pipelines and windshield washer fluid.

In some wastewater treatment plants, a small amount of methanol is added to wastewater to provide a carbon food source for the denitrifying bacteria, which convert nitrates to nitrogen to reduce the nitrification of sensitive aquifers.

During World War II, methanol was used as a fuel in several German military rocket designs, under the name M-Stoff, and in a roughly 50/50 mixture with hydrazine, known as C-Stoff.

Methanol was used as an automobile coolant antifreeze in the early 1900s.

Methanol is used as a denaturing agent in polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis.

Direct-methanol fuel cells are unique in their low temperature, atmospheric pressure operation, allowing them to be miniaturized to an unprecedented degree. This, combined with the relatively easy and safe storage and handling of methanol, may open the possibility of fuel cell-powered consumer electronics, such as for laptop computers and mobile phones.

Methanol is also a widely used fuel in camping and boating stoves. Methanol burns well in an unpressurized burner, so alcohol stoves are often very simple, sometimes little more than a cup to hold fuel. This lack of complexity makes them a favourite of hikers who spend extended time in the wilderness. Similarly, the alcohol can also be gelled to reduce risk of leaking or spilling, as with the brand "Sterno".

Methanol is mixed with water and injected into high performance diesel and gasoline engines for an increase of power and a decrease in intake air temperature in a process known as water methanol injection.

Shipment / Storage

For overseas carriage aspects of Chemicals, the readers are recommended to acquire or have access to a good chemical dictionary, and a copy of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, issued by the International Maritime Organisation. Also consult the applicable MSDS sheet.

Risk factors

Flammable. Dangerous fire risk. Explosive limits in air 6-36,5% by volume. Toxic by ingestion (causes blindness). TLV: 200 ppm in air.

See also: