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Products and Applications

Methanol is used on a limited basis to fuel internal combustion engines, as it is less flammable than gasoline. Mixtures of methanol with gasoline and nitrous oxides are often used as the primary fuel source in open wheel racing circuits and in radio controlled model airplanes as these mixtures produce more power than gasoline and nitrous oxides alone.

Methanol is frequently used as a denaturant stabilizer for ethanol manufactured for industrial uses, as it is poisonous. The addition of a poison economically exempts industrial ethanol from the significant taxes that would otherwise be levied as it is the essence of all potable alcoholic beverages.


However, the largest use of methanol so 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.

When produced from wood or other organic materials, the resulting organic methanol may be used as an alternative to petroleum-based hydrocarbons. Methanol is also used as a solvent and as antifreeze in pipelines and windscreen washer fluid.

In some wastewater treatment plants, a small amount of methanol is added to wastewater to provide a food source of carbon for denitrification bacteria, which convert nitrates to nitrogen.

Direct-methanol fuel cells are unique in their low temperature, atmospheric pressure operation, allowing them to be miniaturized to an unprecedented degree. Together with the relatively easy and safe storage and handling of methanol may open new doors to the possibility of fuel cell-powered consumer electronics.

Other chemical derivatives of methanol include dimethyl ether, which has replaced chlorofluorocarbons as an aerosol spray propellant, and acetic acid.

Methanol is a traditional ingredient in methylated spirit or denatured alcohol.

However, methanol is corrosive to some metals, such as aluminium. Although a weak acid, methanol attacks the oxide coating that normally protects the aluminium from corrosion in the reaction as shown below:

6 CH3OH + Al2O3 → 2 Al(OCH3) 3 + 3 H2O

The resulting methoxide salts are soluble in methanol, have a clean aluminum surface, which is readily oxidised by some dissolved oxygen. Also, methanol can act as a reducing agent:

6 CH3OH + 2 Al → 2 Al(OCH3) 3 + 3 H2

This process effectively fuels corrosion until either the metal is totally corroded or the concentration of CH3OH is small.