What is Methanol…and how is it used?
Methanol is a liquid petrochemical made up of four parts hydrogen, one part oxygen, and one part carbon (CH3OH). In small amounts and low concentrations, it’s a “naturally occurring” substance, produced by living organisms, and manufactured from a variety of organic and inorganic sources. Today, methanol is typically manufactured commercially from natural gas in catalytic plants located in regions with plentiful hydrocarbon feed stock reserves (the Persian Gulf and Caribbean, South America, Africa, and Russia).
Because methanol production facilities and principle users span the globe, approximately 80 percent of the world’s annual methanol production is transported between continents by transoceanic shipping. Methanol is received and stored at marine terminals, then shipped by truck, rail, and barge to chemical production facilities and bulk distributors — where it is stored in tank farms and repackaged into smaller containers. Tanker trucks and trailers complete the distribution network, delivering methanol to the wide range of final users in the methanol value chain.
Like most chemicals, methanol must be handled, transported and used with care. It has significant toxic, flammable and reactive properties. For more information about methanol safe handling, please visit our
Safety & Environment section.
Principal Uses of Methanol
Methanol is used to produce a variety of chemicals, including formaldehyde and acetic acid.
Formaldehyde is added to adhesives used in the wood industry, such as plywood, particle board and laminates. Formaldehyde is also a key component of resins used to coat paper and plastic products. Industrial uses of acetic acid include preparing metal acetates, used in some printing processes; vinyl acetate, used to produce plastics; and cellulose acetate, used in photographic films and textiles; and butyl acetates, widely used as solvents in paints, lacquers and resins.
Globally, methanol is also used to produce chemicals used to manufacture polyester fabrics and fibers; acrylic plastics; pesticides; textile solvents; pharmaceuticals; and windshield wiper fluid.
Methanol is also used as a direct fuel for automobile engines, as a blended fuel with gasoline (M85), and as an octane booster/additive in MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) reformulated gasoline.
All these uses (and more) mean methanol is produced, stored, and shipped in enormous quantities. World consumption is expected to reach 46 million metric tons this year. Constantly changing global economic and environmental issues affect methanol markets, as does worldwide energy policies and the ups and downs of business cycles in key use industries.
Where do we find it in our lives?
Traditionally Methanol is used in a variety of industrial applications. Methanol is primarily used as an industrial solvent for inks, resins, adhesives to wood items, and dyes. It is used as a solvent in the manufacture of cholesterol, streptomycin, vitamins, hormones, and other pharmaceuticals. Methanol is used as an antifreeze for automotive radiators, an ingredient of gasoline (as an antifreezing agent and octane booster), and as fuel for picnic stoves. Methanol is also an ingredient in paint and varnish removers. We find methanol applied in such everyday items as windshield washer fluid, fertilizers, carpets, clothing and plastics.