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MRS Press Release

Methanol: a renewable fuel for the future?

September 17, 2015
Press & Public Relations Contact:

Ryan Rebholz
Communications Manager
Materials Research Society
WARRENDALE, PA  – Imagine powering your laptop computer or cell phone with alcohol? This idea might not be so far-fetched, as a number of organizations are already actively developing methanol-powered fuel cells for electronic devices, according to a newly published paper inMRS Energy & Sustainability—A Review Journal. In fact, forecasts highlighted in the paper indicate that the market for methanol fuel cells may reach $1.1 billion by next year.

The paper by a group of scientists from the Colorado School of Mines provides an overview of recent research in this intriguing area. The authors examine the technological, environmental, and policy aspects of direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs), which convert the energy stored in liquid methanol fuel to electrical energy.

As a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, fuel cells based on potentially renewable fuels, such as hydrogen and methanol, have received considerable scientific attention. The authors report that the attractive properties of methanol in terms of its energy density, ease of distribution, and potential for production from clean fossil-based resources (natural gas) or from renewable sources (biomass, solar) make the DMFC an appealing power technology that may eventually be used as a renewable source for the transportation sector.

Methanol fuel is less expensive (per unit energy) and provides significantly higher volumetric and gravimetric energy density when compared to compressed hydrogen (at 1000 bar) and even liquid hydrogen. Methanol fuel embodies ten times higher specific energy density than the state-of-the-art Li-ion batteries.

According to author Ryan O’Hayre, Colorado School of Mines, “direct methanol fuel cells are an exciting technology, but there are still a lot of major hurdles to overcome before they can be commercialized.”

Based on their overview of current research, the authors conclude that it is more likely that DMFC technology will be commercialized first for small portable power applications because of the relatively high costs involved compared to hydrogen-based fuel cells, as well as durability and power-density issues. They predict that methanol-based fuel cells might replace batteries in consumer electronic applications or laptop batteries in the first instance. In fact, the authors find that a number of organizations are already actively developing DMFCs for portable electronics devices. They draw on marketing forecasts indicating that the DMFC market may reach $1.1 billion by 2016, and account for 85% of the portable fuel cell market. 

The authors predict that new breakthroughs in DMFC performance—particularly increases in power density and efficiency, coupled with cost reduction—could eventually make methanol-fuelled vehicles a compelling option in future. 

The paper by Dr. Prabhuram Joghee, Dr. Jennifer Nekuda Malik, Professor Svitlana Pylypenko and Professor Ryan O’Hayre from Colorado School of Mines is available in MRS Energy & Sustainability—A Review Journal here.

About the Materials Research Society

MRS is an organization of over 12,000 materials researchers from academia, industry and government worldwide, and a recognized leader in promoting the advancement of interdisciplinary materials research and technology to improve the quality of life. MRS members are students and professionals hailing from physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and engineering—the full spectrum of materials research. Headquartered in Warrendale, Pennsylvania (USA), MRS membership now spans 90 countries, with approximately 45 percent of members residing outside the United States.

MRS serves and engages members across generations to advance their careers and promote materials research and innovation. The Society produces high-quality meetings and publications, assuring that members of all career stages can present and publish their most important and timely work to an international and interdisciplinary audience. MRS continues to expand its professional development portfolio, as well as promote diversity and inclusion in the scientific workforce, with career services for researchers worldwide. The Society advocates for the importance of scientific research and innovation to policymakers and the community. And the MRS Awards program honors those whose work has already had a major impact in the field, as well as those whose work shows great promise for future leadership.

For more information about the Materials Research Society visit mrs.org and follow @Materials_MRS.