Methanol is used to produce a variety of other chemicals, including acetic acid. Methanol is primarily used as an industrial solvent to help create inks, resins, adhesives and dyes. It is also used as a solvent in the manufacture of important pharmaceutical ingredients and products such as cholesterol, streptomycin, vitamins and hormones.
Methanol can be used as a fuel for vehicles and boats, and it can be blended into gasoline to produce an efficient fuel known as methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), which can have lower emissions than conventional gasoline. Methanol is also used in biodiesel, a renewable fuel made from plants or animal fat that can be used in place of, or blended into, conventional fuel.
Methanol’s chemical properties allow it to lower the freezing point of water-based liquids and increase their boiling point. Because of these attributes, methanol can be used as an antifreeze in windshield washer fluid to prevent the cleaning fluid from freezing. Methanol is also injected into natural gas pipelines to lower the freezing point of water during oil and gas transport.
OSHA monitors and regulates methanol exposure in industrial setting and sets permissible exposure limits to help protect worker safety.
Uses & Benefits
Methanol has chemical properties which allow it to lower the freezing point of a water-based liquid and increase its boiling point. These attributes lead methanol to be used as an antifreeze in windshield washer fluid to keep the cleaning fluid from freezing. It is also injected in natural gas pipelines, where it lowers the freezing point of water during oil and gas transport.
Methanol is primarily used as an industrial solvent to help create inks, resins, adhesives, and dyes. It is also used as a solvent in the manufacture of important pharmaceutical ingredients and products such as cholesterol, streptomycin, vitamins and hormones.
Roughly 45 percent of the world’s methanol is used in energy-related applications. Methanol can be used as a type of vehicle fuel or marine fuel for boats. It can also be blended into gasoline to produce an efficient fuel known as methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) which can have lower emissions than conventional gasoline. Methanol also is used in biodiesel, a renewable type of fuel made from plants or animal fats that can be used in place of, or blended into, conventional fuel.
Methanol occurs naturally in many foods, including fruits and vegetables. Dietary methanol helps to regulate human gene activity . It is also created in the human digestive system to help metabolize food.
In industrial settings, methanol is produced synthetically by a multi-step process involving natural gas and a process called “steam reforming.” In the past, methanol was once made by the distillation of wood, which is why it is also called wood alcohol. The distillation of wood is the process in which wood is heated to form charcoal and vapors. The vapors are condensed and collected to form a brownish liquid, creating methanol.
Methanol is poisonous, and it is one of the chemicals that can be used in small amounts to denature alcohol (also known as ethanol) to keep people from drinking ethanol products such as mouth wash and fuel blends.
In the body, when the artificial sweetener aspartame is digested, it is broken down into the metabolites phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol. While methanol can be toxic in high amounts, the amounts that result from the digestion of aspartame in the body is lower than the likely exposure would be from many “natural” foods that contain methanol, like fruits and vegetables. According to American Cancer Society, drinking a liter of diet soda with aspartame would lead to the consumption of 55 milligrams (mg) of methanol, as compared to as much as 680 mg of methanol from a liter of fruit juice.