Methanol and hydrogen from biomass for transportation

Robert H. Williams, Eric D. Larson, Ryan E. Katofsky, Jeff Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Methanol and hydrogen produced from biomass via indirectly heated gasifiers and their use in fuel cell vehicles would make it possible for biomass to be used for road transportation, with zero or near-zero local air pollution and very low levels of lifecycle CO2 emissions, if the biomass feedstock is grown sustainably. Moreover, because this approach to using biomass for transport fuels involves such an efficient use of land, it offers the potential for making major contributions to reducing dependence on insecure sources of oil in transportation. Biomass-derived methanol and hydrogen would be roughly competitive with these fuels produced on a much larger scale (to exploit scale economies) from coal, with relatively high biomass feedstock prices. While biomass-derived methanol and hydrogen would not be able to compete with the production of these fuels from natural gas in the near term, natural gas prices are expected to rise substantially over the next decade or so. With natural gas prices expected by the year 2010, biomass would be nearly competitive with natural gas in the production of these fuels. A carbon tax that would increase the cost of owning and operating vehicles by less than 2% would be adequate to tip the economic balance in favor of biomass. The production of methanol for export in developing regions could provide sustainable new income streams for rural areas in these regions while bringing competition and fuel price stability to world markets in transport fuels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-34
Number of pages17
JournalEnergy for Sustainable Development
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1995

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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