Alliance for methanol

November 12, 1999, 10:00 CET

A five-year collaboration deal for introducing methanol as a vehicle fuel has been concluded by Statoil and Canadian producer Methanex.

The partners aim to develop a European pilot programme which will demonstrate how this chemical can be used for cars powered by fuel cells.

Plans call for the programme to be ready in 2002, and embrace all aspects of supplying, distributing and marketing methanol.

"The point is to gain experience with the way logistics and infrastructure function in practice," says Sjur Haugen, head of business development for Industry & Trading's methanol division.

"Another important aspect is to communicate the message to consumers, show them that fuel-cell cars have been developed and will be on the market in four-five years, and explain that methanol is a suitable fuel."

Fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity through an electro-chemical reaction, but transporting and storing pure hydrogen poses major safety problems.

That would make a transfer from hydrocarbons to hydrogen as a source of energy very expensive at present. A number of car-makers have accordingly developed fuel cells which run on methanol.

Produced from natural gas, this chemical is distributed and consumed world-wide and can be incorporated with minor modifications into the same transport and distribution system used for petrol and diesel oil.

"With methanol as fuel, the world could benefit immediately from the fuel-cell car's good environmental properties rather than having to wait until pure hydrogen is available on a global basis," says Mr Haugen.

Methanex ranks as the world's largest methanol producer and seller, while Statoil, with its Tjeldbergodden plant in mid-Norway, is the largest methanol manufacturer in Europe.

The two groups signed a cooperation deal earlier this year on testing fuel cells as an energy source in homes.