New push for alcohol fuels

Updated: 2013-09-05 10:55

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily)

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An upcoming proposal by the United States Energy Security Council may help turn tens of millions of gas-burning cars on the roads into alcohol fuel-burners.

The council, a powerful organization comprised of former cabinet secretaries and corporate chiefs, will submit a plan on Oct 15 to the US government about a collaboration between the US, China and Brazil in the field of alcohol fuels, according to Gal Luft, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) and an advisor to the council.

The three countries - already major markets for alcohol fuels - should join forces to introduce open fuel standards which require automakers to make flexible fuel vehicles that can run on any combination of gasoline and alcohol, basically methanol and ethanol, Luft said.

He believes China and the US, the world's two largest auto markets, can dictate what type of cars are used and sold.

In Luft's view, methanol is a good choice for China since it's made in China from the abundant supply of coal and is much cheaper than oil and therefore a good way to help China's energy security.

Methanol burns much cleaner than gasoline and releases very few toxic emissions, such as benzene, xylene and other particulate matter.

New push for alcohol fuels

Luft is excited about the support shown by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and the National Development and Reform Commission for the country's methanol program. MIIT is expected to introduce a national standard for methanol fuel by the end of this year.

China has been looking for an alternative liquid fuel source to ease the growing demand for high-priced oil and has looked to methanol as a potential source.

In less than a decade, China's methanol use in the transportation sector has grown from virtually zero to providing about 8 percent of the country's fuel supply. China produced some 38 million tons of methanol in 2010. The output is expected to reach 50 million tons by 2015.

Luft wants to see the same thing happen in the US, where gas is cheaper. "There is more reason to do it [in the US] because methanol from natural gas is cheaper than methanol from coal," he said, citing an earlier study by former MIT professor Ernest Moniz, now US energy secretary, which shows that the best way to use natural gas in transportation is to convert it to methanol in its liquid form. He said it's also the conclusion of the US Energy Security Council.

"We are hoping to make a concrete proposal in which the US, China, Brazil and other countries that are looking into adopting methanol fuel can work together," he said.

Israel, he added, is also interested in converting its newly discovered natural gas into methanol.

He said China has a lot of experience with methanol, from production to refilling. Millions of cars in China run on blended methanol/gasoline fuel. Luft said the US and Brazil have more experience in ethanol and flexible fuel vehicles.

"The three countries can really teach each other a lot on various aspects of the supply chain of alcohol fuel," he said.

(China Daily USA 09/05/2013 page1)