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Saturday, August 7, 2010


As most of you know, I have a preference of methanol over ethanol, plug-in cars and hydrogen-powered vehicles.  I would like to share a letter I sent to John Bockris (who coined the term, The Hydrogen Economy, but is now also partial to methanol) and Irvin Barash, a Manhattan venture capitalist for the sustainables.  I don't think they will mind my showing my response to John's articulate case for methanol.  You can write to him ( ) if you wish to learn more about his current thinking in this field.

Dear John and Irvin:

Excellent summary, John (photo on left).  You well-explained the case for biomethanol.  I even liked your insertion of future magic as part of the planning equation.

Let me further add these compelling points:

1.  Methanol is the ONLY liquid capable of reasonably efficiently being utilized by a fuel cell.  Other liquid fuels need first to be processed through an expensive reformer.

2.  In comparing a plug-in lithium battery car with one powered by a fuel cell, the latter will take the vehicle FIVE TIMES further.  This is why the Direct Methanol Fuel Cell will someday replace batteries for all portable applications.  Toshiba now markets this device.  Unfortunately, the USDOE remains somewhat allergic to developing the DMFC for transport applications.  I've blamed the Farm Lobby in the past, but there is more to this that I can't quite understand.

3.  A gallon of methanol has MORE ACCESSIBLE HYDROGEN than a gallon of liquid hydrogen.  In fact, 140% more.

It thus takes no particular vision to advance biomethanol as the mid-term replacement for gasoline, and a far better pathway through the rest of this century than a plug-in electric car, for the infrastructure is largely in place and economics seem sound.  The only technology absent is the DMFC, so a Manhattan Project for this widget is the solution.  Ultimately, the carbon for methanol will be absorbed from the atmosphere, but I think any commercial breakthrough is a century away.  That's Irvin to the right.

Hydrogen might someday play a role, but that is many generations away, and might never make any sense for ground transportation.  Hydrogen does have potential for sustainable aviation.

The question, then, is how to advance the biomethanol economy.  Irvin, the ball is in your court.



My dinner on the roof was greeted by a beautiful rainbow:

There remain three storms in the Atlantic, but none of them pose any threat to land.  Tropical Storm Estelle in the Pacific is up to 50 MPH, but not expected to strengthen much as she moves west:


KailuaKona3000 said...

Aloha, Pat

I agree that the key to the hydrogen economy is solving the density issue and methanol does this well. I also agree that with commercially made DMFC by Toshiba, biomethanol has many advantages.

I would also like to advocate for ammonia made by renewable energy sources as another key to the hydrogen economy. After all, it is similar in energy density to methanol, there also exists the direct ammonia fuel cell and there are 3000 miles of anhydrous ammonia pipelines in the US.

For Hawaii, the issue will come down to the feed stock of making either of these fuels and the market of who will buy. For biomethanol, you will need a surplus of woody biomass. The price for biomass rises with the price of residual fuel oil as most steam boilers can use it for fuel. Ammonia uses air, water and electricity to synthesize N2 from air and H2 from water to form NH3. Ammonia is also a carbon free fuel.

I think both should be considered as we move towards our Blue Revolution. Irvin, some things to think about.


Patrick Kenji Takahashi said...

Good point about ammonia. I see a lot advantages of your option. Keep at it.