DO IT YOURSELF

How to Make Methanol: Fuel Your Future

Homemade methanol
David Dawson
Written by David Dawson

We are all looking for ways to eliminate the middle man and become more self-sufficient. We see many people returning to the idea of subsistence farming and solar panels. So, what about fueling your car with an alternative energy source?

Secondly, how about learning how to make methanol yourself so that you never need to worry about your fuel source again? While some might call it a crazy concept, survivalists know just how important it is to be prepared for the unknown. You never know when our world might endure a drastic change, and it’s best to be ready at all times.

What is methanol?

Methanol is used as an alternative fuel used in several countries around the world. It can be combined with gasoline or used all on its own. It was first produced through a process of wood distillation which is what earned it the name “wood alcohol”. Today, there are a number of methods that can be used to produce methanol. Some are more complex than others, and there are ways of making methanol at home too.

Infographic for methanol

Once you learn how to make methanol fuel, you will be able to build up your own personal supply and replenish your stock as needed. Some methods of methanol production include the use of carbon dioxide and renewable energy sources. Many experts see this as a form of carbon recycling. It is also colorless and odorless with several advantages.

Advantages of methanol fuel

There are a number of benefits to using this alternative fuel. Understanding these benefits will encourage more people to choose this type of fuel in the future.

  • Methanol is a form of fuel in itself, but it can also be used to produce hydrogen. This hydrogen can then be used for fuel cells.
  • Methanol has a higher octane than ethanol and gasoline, which is probably why they are using this alternative fuel in the racing world.
  • Methanol production and use can help relieve the pressures on oil companies and the demand for oil-based fuel sources.
  • There are also significant environmental and health benefits since the process, and use of this fuel does not harm our delicate ecosystems like oil and similar forms of fuel.
  • You would not have to change the way you refuel your vehicle since it can be pumped just as you would regular gasoline.
  • Methanol is not as volatile as gasoline thanks to its high flash point. This means that it burns at a lower temperature and at a slower rate.
  • Methanol is water soluble which means that water will dilute this substance so that it does not cause harm to the environment. Just think about the effect of all those nasty oil spills!

Disadvantages of methanol fuel

While the advantages are great, it is also important to understand the possible disadvantages so that you can prepare yourself accordingly.

  • Due to the corrosive nature of methane, it’s essential that all equipment and storage tanks are corrosion resistant. If not, you could be in for a spill or leak. Stainless steel tanks are usually your best bet along with special, corrosion-resistant hoses and tubes.
  • The current fuel stations do not make it possible for methanol to be offered as an option. Tanks would need to be modified as well as hoses and various parts of the refueling system. Of course, this is a large-scale problem, and if you’re planning to learn how to manufacture methanol fuel for yourself, then this won’t be of any concern.
  • Compared to gasoline, methanol only offers half as much energy which means that refueling will need to occur more frequently.
  • Depending on several factors, gasoline can prove cheaper, at least, most of the time.
  • Blending methanol with gasoline does make it more volatile.
  • Direct contact with the skin, inhalation, or digestion can result in various medical concerns, but the same can be said for several fuel sources.

Uses for methanol

Apart from fueling our vehicles, there are a number of interesting uses for methanol. As time goes on, more research may reveal even more great uses for this alternative source. One interesting use is wastewater denitrification. In other words, methanol is added to the water streams in order to help remove nitrogen. This is significant because, at this point, wastewater is being treated with ammonia. Ammonia interacts with the wastewater which results in high nitrate levels.

Wastewater denitrification Infographic

The water can never be released back into the environment because of the devastating effects of these nitrates, but methanol can help solve this problem. Another possible use is that of electricity generation. A number of companies are working on methanol powered turbines as an alternative energy source. Methanol is also used in the process of biodiesel production. Its role is to break down the various oils so that it can be used as biodiesel.

Make methanol fuel at home

Many people buy methanol while others prefer to make it themselves. Making it yourself will mean that you never need to worry about running out of fuel as long as you keep your raw materials on hand and equipment ready to go.

What you will need

The first thing you will need is a still. It must be able to close completely and withstand heat. Given the corrosive nature of methanol, experts recommend stainless steel. Anything even slightly inferior could result in spillage and other damage. You will also need your fuel source.

Still

Most people choose wood, but there are those who like to add leftover vegetable scraps to the mix as well. If you have a compost heap in your garden, you might need to start choosing between using the veggie scraps for fertilizer or fuel. You will also need a catchment container to hold the methanol.

Safety first

Remember to practice proper safety at all times. Never rush the process and don’t take unnecessary risks. Always wear the right clothing and protective wear. Methanol can be dangerous when inhaled, and it can also affect your eyes and skin so make sure that you invest in durable protective wear before you begin.

Prepare the wood

Wood can be used in a shaved form or chunked. It should be noted that the smaller the wood, the easier it is to extract the methanol. This is because of the way the heating process works. So, if your wood is still quite large, you will need to do whatever it takes to get it down to the smallest possible size.

Heating

Place the wood in the heating still. Secure the lid and make sure that there is a tube leading from the still to the other container. Like the still and catchment container, it’s essential that you use the right kind of tubing because of the high level of corrosion. You might even find that the hose will need to be replaced from time to time, and it’s essential to check and test the hose each time before use.

Vaporization

Heat the still with an open flame. The wood inside will heat up as a result, but it won’t actually burn as if you were lighting a fire. The still is essentially inhibiting the combustion process so that the methanol can be extracted. If you burn the wood, it will completely wreck the process.

Condensation

The methanol will rise in a gas form, and this gas is obviously warmer than the air around it. Just like hot, moisture laden air forms condensation on a window during the winter, so too will the gas condense and form a liquid once it comes into contact with cooler surroundings. This liquid will drip into the receiving container until the process is complete.

Storage

It’s important to understand that, like any type of fuel, there are storage guidelines and restrictions. It’s important to consult with your local Fire Marshall and check the building code with regards to the maximum quantity that can be stored on your premises. The amount that you are permitted to store is also subject to strict regulations. These include sufficient ventilation systems, explosion-proof electric, spill containment, fire protection, and special storage cabinets.

Making methanol

It’s also important that any other flammable, corrosive, or hazardous substances are kept far away from your supply of methanol. You also need to check your stock regularly for any potential problems or leaks. The sooner you notice any problems, the better your chances of preventing any significant damage. Depending on how you store your methanol, it can “keep” for a fairly long time.

Remember that methanol absorbs water in the atmosphere which is why you need to keep it tightly sealed when stored. Once you open the container, you will need to use its contents as soon as possible since the seal has been broken and exposure to the humidity in the room is increased.

In case of emergency

Due to the fire risk, it’s always good to keep the right fire extinguishing equipment on hand. Methanol burns with a non-luminous flame which can make it tough to see in well-lit areas. If you notice a small fire, you can use a fairly standard fire extinguisher. Water is good for putting these fires out, but you also need to contain the water because, as it runs, it can actually cause the fire to spread before putting it out.

You need to use four times as much water as the quantity of methanol on fire. The safest bet of all is to use alcohol resistant foam (AR-AFFF) since it includes a significant amount of water but, because of the foam, it won’t spread like regular water.

Possible risk factors

If you are planning on making your own fuel, it’s very important that you follow the correct safety procedures. Although it’s not as flammable as gasoline, methanol still poses a fire risk which is why you need to take all the necessary precautions and be prepared in the event of an emergency. You should also ensure that the room in which you’re working is well-ventilated since inhalation of the fumes can have serious side effects. It also wouldn’t hurt to have somebody with you or, at least, somebody to check in on you every few minutes.

Safety first

Contact with the skin can also cause a serious reaction so make sure that you wear the proper protective clothing and avoid contact with your mouth, nose, and eyes in particular. Should you notice that your still or catchment container is damaged in any way, you should hold off on repairs. First transfer any remaining methanol into another, suitable, container before working on the damaged one. While some professionals don’t mind welding containers filled with methanol, others understand that this is incredibly risk and should rather be avoided.

Welding stainless steel will require specific welding equipment and materials in order to get the job done just right so, in some cases, it might be better to simply buy a new still or have a professional perform the welding instead of doing it yourself.

Fuel for a rainy day

You never know when our current fuel resources will run out. As soon as they start to run low, you can expect some people to panic. It’s these moments when your own personal fuel supply will come in extremely handy! That said, it’s always important to use your supply and replenish it. Don’t just build up a supply and let it go unused. Once you use a few tanks, get ready to replace them with some more so that you never run out!

Always store your tanks in a cool, dry place and never in the sun. Mark each barrel with a date so that you know which ones are the oldest and need to be used first. If you are planning on using your stock as a fuel additive in your car, you should consult with your mechanic since methanol is more corrosive than other fuel types.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Dawson
David Dawson

David Dawson is a retired security specialist with over 20 years of experience. He worked for a secret manufacturing facilities and hospitals in Illinois. David's responsibility was to protect people in case of any disaster or cataclysm that might occur. Now he keeps on doing it through teaching others about how to prepare and survive flood, earthquake or even war.

  • Michael Connington

    Being self-reliant fuel wise is an appealing thought, but I would like to know more about safety during the process. What protective gear specifically is required?

    • David Dawson

      Always wear splash-proof chemical goggles or a face shield whenever there’s a risk of splashing liquid into your eyes.

  • Ralph Rodgers

    I heard methanol can make you blind. Is that a possibility when you drink it or can it cause blindness during the process of making too? What are its advantages to ethanol home made fuel?

  • It should be safe not unless you ingest it