Methanol is front runner to fuel cars of the future

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 […]

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.