[Burning Issue] Methanol as an alternative to fossil fuel


Why in news?

NITI Aayog is helping the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas draft a Cabinet note on methanol.

Cabinet note on methanol

  1. It covers all aspects and issues that may pose an impediment for the implementation of methanol policy.
  2. Ministry of Petroleum and Natural gas, Fertiliser, and Coal among others are working together to create the methanol policy.
  3. The facilitator would be the NITI Aayog.
  4. International collaborations have also been considered for the policy formulation.
  5. The objective is to get help during the interim period until coal to methanol production in India reaches the level that meets the demand in the country. Until then, there is a need to import a certain quantity of methanol.

The significance of methanol for India

  • Methanol is a cost-effective, non-polluting and versatile fuel. Petrol, diesel or Liquefied Natural Gas can be fully or partially replaced by Methanol. Thus reducing India’s dependence on energy imports.
  • Ethanol is largely made from plant-based sources like sugarcane and vegetable oil. But India can’t afford this due to land constraints. But methanol can be derived from a variety of renewable, non-renewable and hugely available feedstock. These include agricultural biomass, urban solid waste, coal, and natural gas. CO2 in the air can also be considerably reduced with methanol.
  • Methanol production is highly possible in India due to the 125 billion tonnes of proven coal reserves, 500 million tonnes annual generation of biomass and considerable quantities of stranded natural gas.
  • Methanol can significantly contribute to saving cost as it is locally generated and relatively cheaper. Indian Railways is considering turning its entire fleet of 6,000 diesel engines to methanol-operated locomotives. This could reduce the energy bill of railways by half.
  • Furthermore, the vehicular pollution can also be reduced by 40% if about 20% of crude oil imports are substituted by methanol.
  • Hence, methanol can serve both energy and environmental objectives.


  • Methanol is almost non-polluting fuel. But during the process of making methanol from coal, a large amount of CO2 is emitted.
  • This will need to be either captured and stored or utilized to co-generate power in methanol plants. But the technology for this purpose requires further refinement and scaling up.
  • Only up to 15% of methanol doping can be accepted by today’s internal combustion engines and that too with some modifications. For higher levels of blending, changes in the engine design are required.

Way forward

However, the overall gains from the use of methanol outweigh its drawbacks. It could definitely add a new dimension to the country’s energy security. Hence methanol policy would be a welcome step

Practice question

  1. Discuss the significance and the concerns regarding methanol production in India.

By Explains

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