Instead of a "hydrogen economy," should policymakers discuss a "methanol economy?"

Nobel laureate Dr. George Olah and Surya Prakash, director of the University of Southern California's Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute, are attempting to make methanol the alternative fuel of the future.

The pair recently won a $1 million prize from the Israeli government for their methanol research.

According to Prakash, humanity doesn't have an energy problem; he notes that the Sun could provide effectively limitless energy. The issue, he says, is how to harness and store solar energy in an efficient manner.

Methanol will solve that problem, he says.

Methanol can be created by combining hydrogen and carbon dioxide, and already has several possible automotive uses. It can be burned instead of gasoline in a conventional car's engine or de-hydrated to form a diesel substitute called dimethyl ether.

Both methanol fuels burn cleaner than their petroleum counterparts, but there may be an even greener way to use methanol.

A "direct-oxidation fuel cell" relies on a reaction between methanol and air to produce electrical energy, which could be used to drive a car.

However, a truly green methanol economy will depend on the method of methanol production.

The hydrogen required to make methanol will likely come from electrolysis, the use of electricity to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.

This is a very energy-intensive process, but Prakash believes that green energy sources like solar and wind can be used instead of dirty sources like coal or oil. Consequently, much of a methanol fuel cell car's environmental impact may be linked to hydrogen production.

Could a methanol economy be viable? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below.


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