For the last 18 months, a fleet of 6 methanol fueled cars have been tested in Iceland. The cars with the model name Emgrand 7 are produced by Chinese car manufacturer Geely, which is a shareholder in Carbon Recycling International (CRI), an Icelandic high-tech company which produces renewable methanol using recycled carbon dioxide emissions derived from a local thermal power plant and hydrogen made by splitting water with electrolysis. The methanol fleet test is a collaboration between Geely, CRI and Brimborg, a local dealership and automotive service provider.
In the recently concluded first phase of the fleet test, the cars were driven roughly 150,000 kilometers. Among drivers testing the vehicles were CRI staff and members of the Icelandic Automobile Association as well as several local service providers in the auto industry. The participants reported virtually no difference in driving experience compared to regular gasoline or diesel fueled cars.
Similar appearance and driver experience The Geely Emgrand 7 is a mid-sized 4 door sedan of a similar size as a Skoda Octavia or Toyota Corolla. It features a 1800cc 127 horsepower engine which can run on both methanol and gasoline. The version used in the fleet test has a 50 liter methanol tank as well as a 10 liter gasoline tank. The car starts with fuel from the gasoline tank and automatically switches to methanol once a preset temperature has been reached in the engine.
The switch from gasoline to methanol is not noticeable to the driver. As methanol is stable at a low temperature and therefore evaporates slowly, unlike gasoline, the two-tank solution was implemented to avoid any problems during cold starts. Geely is now working on a new design, eliminating the need for the small gasoline tank.
Methanol in high demand as a fuel in China. Geely developed the methanol version of the Emgrand for the Chinese market, where use of methanol is an automobile fuel has increased rapidly over the last few years. Several Chinese provinces, including Shanghai have adopted standards for methanol and gasoline blends. The most common blend contains 15% methanol and 85% gasoline.
Currently, China produces most of its methanol from coal. CRI now works closely with Chinese partners to build up a more environmentally friendly production facilities, using CRI’s proprietary CO2-to-methanol technology.
Significant reduction of CO2 emissions and other tailpipe emissions According to CRI’s Director of Sales and Marketing, Ómar Sigurbjörnsson, who managed the fleet test, the reported reduction in well-to-wheel CO2 emissions when driving with renewable methanol compared to gasoline was 70% on average (including all upstream manufacturing, distribution and tailpipe emissions for both the gasoline starter fuel and renewable methanol). „The average in use emissions were calculated as 46 g CO2 per kilometer, accounting for the consumption of both fuels.
Compared to gasoline or diesel methanol however offers much cleaner combustion, free of soot and emits no traces of sulphur or carcinogenic compounds which are formed in the combustion of liquid fossil fuels“, Sigurbjörnsson remarks. According to Sigurbjörnsson, the data collected supports the conclusion that methanol fueled cars will also be economically competitive with both fossil fueled cars, hybrids and electric cars.
These positive results encourage CRI and its partners to engage in further development of renewable methanol use in vehicles. Planning for the next phase is already underway.
Further advances in reducing CO2 emissions in transportation are necessary to meet international commitments to counter climate change. International efforts have been focused on commercialisation of electric and hydrogen vehicles but an alternative approach using renewable methanol as an energy carrier could address some of the technical and economic challenges. Renewable methanol, a liquid and energy dense fuel is also a more competitive solution for heavy goods road transport and marine transport, enabling the indirect electrification of vehicles used in those sectors.
Methanol has been used as a racing fuel for many decades. Unlike methane gas and hydrogen, there is no need to install expensive infrastructure in order to store and distribute methanol as a fuel. Furthermore, cars such as the Geely Emgrand can be manufactured in the same facilities, using the same platforms as gasoline or diesel powered vehicles which drastically reduces production costs compared to electric or hybrid vehicles. According to Mr. Sigurbjörnsson, methanol can also be used to generate electricity onboard using fuel cells.
“Methanol which is produced with CRI’s method is one of the most environmentally friendly liquid fuels available today. It burns without soot and has a high octane number which enables car manufacturers to design lighter, powerful engines with more efficiency than can be achieved in the design of traditional gasoline or diesel engines. We are also participating in projects where our renewable methanol is already used to extend the range of battery electric cars and ferries,” says Sigurbjörnsson.