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Unsupervised Learning for Predicting Machine Failures for Aircraft Engine

2250 words (9 pages) Essay

23rd Sep 2019 Chemistry Reference this

Industrial Synthesis

Methanol is a chemical with the formula of CH3OH, it is often referred to as ‘wood alcohol’ because it used to be mainly produced as a by-product of the distillation of wood. Methanol is a flammable, colourless liquid – similar to that of ethanol (the alcohol that we drink), but it is far more toxic than alcohol and should not be consumed by humans, due to the harmful impact it would have on your health. The consumption of methanol can lead to permanent blindness and even death if enough is consumed.

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The most common production method of methanol is through the synthesis gas process first developed in the 1920’s. A mixture of the two gases carbon monoxide and hydrogen – known as synthesis gas (syngas) – is the basis for most of the methanol production used these days. One of the great advantages of methanol is that it can be made from any source that can be converted into synthesis gas. Through the process of gasification, synthesis gas can be produced from anything that is or ever was a plant.

Before natural gas can be processed into synthesis gas, impurities must first be removed, an example of one of these impurities are sulphur compounds (H2S) because of the poisonous effects it has on the catalysts. The most common way is by using the conventional steam reforming method.

  2 CH4 + 3 H2O -> CO + CO2 + 7 H2 (Synthesis Gas)

  CO + CO2 + 7 H2 -> 2 CH3OH + 2 H2 + H2O

During this process methane gas and steam are mixed together at a high pressure and a high temperature with the aid of catalysts from carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

The process of steam reforming leaves an excess of hydrogen, the excess hydrogen can also be changed into more methanol if there is another CO2 source present. The most used gasification processes are those which the surplus hydrogen is burnt into water, during which steam reforming is done through the following oxidation reaction:

CH4 + ½O2 -> CO + 2 H2 -> CH3OH

CH4 + O2 -> CO2 + 2 H2

The carbon dioxide and hydrogen left over would be turned into extra methanol by reacting with another external source of hydrogen from the gas synthesis reaction, this method produces the most methanol which makes it the most efficient.

Main Uses

Methanol is an extremely popular compound used worldwide for multiple different uses. Methanol is used as a building block for everyday products, as a feedstock to produce different chemicals, for example, formaldehyde and acetic acid, which are then used in products such as foams, plywood, solvents, adhesives and windshield wiper fluid. Methanol can also be used directly as fuel for vehicles or mixed into gasoline to produce a higher quality fuel that is more efficient and has lower emissions that standard gasoline. It has been used in racing for years for multiple different reasons. A few of these are: methanol is much cheaper to buy than gasoline, it burns cleaner, is less flammable and burns cooler. Methanol has a much lower energy content than gasoline which means it gets less miles per gallon (mpg) but it is used because it has a far higher octane, this means it is much more powerful than gasoline. A problem with using high concentration of methanol in fuel is that it can corrode some metals, for example, aluminium. Seeing as its energy density is far lower than gasoline, twice the volume would be needed to get the same mpg of gasoline. Methanol being a polar liquid at room temperature it is used as a solvent and as an antifreeze in pipelines and windshield washer fluid. Methanol is commonly used as a fuel in camping stoves, this is because it burns well in an unpressurised burner, and the simplicity makes methanol a favourite for people hiking and camping.


Methanol is one of the most heavily traded chemicals in the world with an estimate of around 95MMT (million metric tonnes) per year. North East Asia (mainly China) are the countries with the highest methanol demand in the world. According to the HIS Markit World Analysis, in 2017 the demand for methanol will surpass 80MMT with China making up 54% of world capacity and 46% of global demand. (The IHS Markit is a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions for the major industries that drive economies worldwide.) However, in 2000 China only made up 12% of the global methanol demand whereas North America and Western Europe made up 33% and 22%. According to the HIS Markit, by 2021 China will account for nearly 70% of the global demand, and North America and Western Europe making up only 9% and 8%. This clearly shows that the demand for methanol is greatly increasing in China but decreasing in North America and Western Europe. In a very short period of time China has clearly became the dominant force in the methanol market, this is because of its massive coal-based production.

Here is a pie chart showing the worldwide consumption of methanol in 2017. It is clear to see that Northeast Asia (China) has the highest percentage of methanol consumption, followed then by North America and Western Europe sharing about the same percentage.


It is said that the ancient Egyptians were the first to discover methanol, the got the methanol from the pyrolysis of wood (heating it up to high temperatures, along with a few other different substances in embalming. Although, this was not considered ‘pure’ methanol, fully pure methanol was completely isolated in 1661 by the distillation of boxwood by a mane called Robert Boyle. In the year 1923, two German chemists called Mathias Pier and Alwin Mittasch together figured out a process in which to convert synthesis gay (carbon dioxide and hydrogen) into pure methanol. They used a chromium and manganese oxide catalyst in the experiment, which required pressures ranging from 50-220atm (atmospheric units) and temperatures up to 450°C. Methanol produced these days has been made more efficient due to the use of catalysts.


Methanol is one of the most used compounds made and is used in hundreds of different chemicals and it is also in thousands of different products that we use in our daily lives. Due to methanol being a relatively safe substance it is generally quite easy to get, you can buy as much as you want over the internet and get it delivered to your house. The availability depends on the amount being made (the supply) and the demand (the amount being used), for example, if the demand was higher than the supply then methanol would be harder to get a hold of.

This graph is showing the global demand and supply for methanol. As you can see the total capacity is always greater than the demand, therefore there is methanol available. The total capacity and methanol has continuously increased and will continue to increase from 2010 – 2020. In 2010 the demand was roughly 48 metric tonnes and in 2020 it will double to roughly 100 tonnes. In 2010 the total capacity was about 78 tonnes and in 2020 it is estimated to be 140 tonnes.


The price of methanol is never a set value, it is always fluctuating and has always been directly related to the demand required at that point in time. The higher the demand the higher the price, the lower demand means a lower price.

This table is showing the price of methanol in three different continents: Europe, North America and Asia. As you can see from the table, Europe has the cheapest price of methanol per litre at €0.323 compared to North America which has the most expensive price per litre at $0.434.





408 €/ton

0.323 €/Litre

North America

549 $/ton

0.434 $/Litre


490 $/ton

0.387 $/Litre

This table is comparing the prices between gasoline, diesel and methanol. Methanol is clearly the cheapest out of all three fuels.





USA1 $/L/[$/gallon]

0.9 [3.425]

1.035 [3.92]

0.8 [3.04]

EU2 [€/L]




This graph is showing the price per tonne of methanol in Euros (€) between March 2007 and March 2017.  As you can see in March 2007 the cost was around €280 per tonne, the highest price of methanol was in 2008 where the cost was €550 per tonne. The cost then rapidly decreased in 2009 but then gradually increased over the years to 2014 at €400 per tonne. In-between 2014 and 2017 the price decreased and then increased again back up to 400 per tonne.

Environmental Impact

Methanol is a naturally occurring and biodegradable type of alcohol that can be found everywhere within our environment. It occurs naturally due to the decomposition of different plant and animal life. When methanol is released into the environment, it rapidly breaks down into multiple different compounds which serves as food for a number of different types of bacteria. Methanol has a very benign environmental impact because of how quickly it biodegrades, whereas, if a large volume of methanol was to be consumed it would have a toxic effect on the body.

Here is a table comparing the different half-lives between methanol and Benzene.

Estimated half-life of Methanol and Benzene in the environment (Howard et al., 1992)










Surface water






It is clear to see that across all of the environmental mediums (soil, air, surface and ground water), methanol has a shorter half-life compared to benzene which illustrates how fast methanol breaks down within the environment.



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