Institution of Mechanical Engineers IMechE

Synthetic Methanol as a Sustainable Transport Fuel

24 September 2008

It is now widely accepted that we must take substantial action if we are to avoid disastrous consequences of climate change driven by man-made CO2 emissions. This factor, combined with concerns over the geopolitical distribution of remaining oil reserves is forcing us to consider alternatives to fossil fuels and the lecture examines some of the possibilities. Increased electrification of the vehicle fleet could centralise energy conversion process and maximise the overall system efficiency as we move towards the provision of renewable energy. But for many applications severe problems remain with cost, weight, energy storage capabilities, and material availability of batteries. The use of molecular hydrogen, in either compressed or liquid form, or bound in material substrates, suffers from similar problems which will require us to continue to use chemical energy carriers for the foreseeable future.

Hydrogen can, however, be effectively liquefied at ambient conditions by combining it with carbon dioxide. The lecture focuses on the production of methanol from renewable hydrogen and CO2. The resulting synthetic methanol is a liquid fuel which can be distributed and used via essentially the same infrastructure and vehicles as we use today. Using a soft-start through its miscibility with bioethanol and gasoline the fuel can be introduced in an evolutionary manner without revolution of the infrastructure and vehicle fleet. The minimum vehicle on-cost it will not hinder the uptake of this technology by customers and provides the possibility of affordable mobility for developing economies without further endangering the stability of the climate.

Meet the Speaker

Dr Richard Pearson obtained a First Class degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Liverpool and M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in modelling gas dynamics in internal combustion engines from Manchester University. Dr Pearson has worked at Ricardo Consulting Engineers as a Design Engineer, and in the Mechanical Engineering Department of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology as a Research Associate and Lecturer. He joined Lotus Engineering in 1998 and is currently a Technical Specialist in the areas of modelling of internal combustion engines and alternative fuels and energy systems.

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: Dr Richard Pearson, Technical Specialist, Lotus Engineering

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