Methanol emerged this week as the most likely candidate for powering cars of the future.
Ford and DaimlerChrysler, which are collaborating with Ballard Power Systems in developing a car powered by fuel cells, confirmed that they are discussing with oil companies how to create an infrastructure of methanol filling stations for such cars.
In a fuel cell, electricity to power an electric motor is generated by a direct chemical process in which hydrogen combines with oxygen from the air to form water. Prototype vehicles, such as DaimlerChrysler’s A-class-based Necar 4, have run on hydrogen.
But there are difficulties in storing and distributing pressurised hydrogen whereas methanol, a liquid at normal temperatures, could be distributed with existing filling station technology.
A methanol-powered car would need a reformer to extract hydrogen from the methanol before it could be used in the fuel cell. A Ford spokesman said this poses technical and packaging problems, but Ford is confident the problems could be solved by 2004, the target date for a production model.
The drawback of using methanol is that carbon dioxide is a by-product. In addition there could be safety issues arising from the fact that methanol burns with an invisible flame.