1.Although recent years have seen substantial reductions in noxious pollutants from individual motor vehicles, the number of such vehicles has been steadily increasing. Consequently, more than 100 cities in the United States still have levels of carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and ozone (generated by photochemical reactions with hydrocarbons from vehicle exhaust) that exceed legally established limits. There is a growing realization that the only effective way to achieve further reductions in vehicle emissions-short of a massive shift away from the private automobile- is to replace conventional diesel fuel and gasoline with cleaner-burning fuels such as compressed natural gas. liquefied petroleum gas, ethanol, or methanol.
2.All of these alternatives are carbon-based fuels whose molecules are smaller and simpler than those of gasoline. These molecules burn more cleanly than gasoline, in part because they have fewer, if any, carbon-carbon bonds and the hydrocarbons they do emit are less likely to generate ozone. The combustion of larger molecules, which have multiple carbon-carbon bonds involves a more complex series of reactions. These reactions increase the probability of incomplete combustion and are more likely to release uncombusted and photochemically active hydrocarbon compounds into the atmosphere. On the other hand, alternative fuels do have drawbacks. Compressed natural gas would require that vehicles have set of heavy fuel tanks- a serious liability in terms of performance and fuel efficiency-and liquefied petroleum gas faces fundamental limits on supply.
3.Ethanol and methanol, on the other hand, have important advantages over other carbon-based alternative fuels: they have higher energy content per volume and would require minimal changes in the existing network for distributing motor fuel. Ethanol is commonly used as a gasoline supplement, but it is currently about twice as expensive as methanol, the low cost of which is one of its attractive features. Methanol's most attractive feature, however, is that it can reduce by about 90 percent the vehicle emissions that form ozone, the most serious urban air pollutant.
4.Like any alternative fuel, methanol has its critics. Yet much of the criticism is based on the use of "gasoline clone" vehicles that do not incorporate even the simplest design improvements that are made possible with the use of methanol. It is true, for example, that a given volume of methanol provides only about one-half of the energy that gasoline and diesel fuel do; other things being equal, the fuel tank would have to be somewhat larger and heavier. However, since melhanol-fueled vehicles could be designed to be much more efficient than "gasoline clone" vehicles fueled with methanol they would need comparatively less fuel. Vehicles incorporating only the simplest of the engine improvements that methanol makes feasible would still contribute to an immediate lessening of urban air pollution.