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Why Not Methanol?

Posted on 10/24/2024 at 9:00 AM

Blue chemical barrels



Running methanol as a fuel sounds great–even more performance potential at a lower price. But, first, some considerations:

Methanol is the simplest form of alcohol, and Sunoco sells it, denatured with 2% gasoline, under its E98 label. “Methanol and ethanol are commodities and used in massive amounts in the chemical industry,” explains Zachary J. Santner, senior specialist of quality at Sunoco. “The source can be from various feedstocks.” Methanol will kill you dead if consumed, though.  

A 54-gallon drum of Sunoco E98 retails for close to $435. The same dealer retails a drum of Sunoco E85-R, a race fuel that contains 85% ethanol, for close to $445. But while methanol costs less than the race fuel, Santner notes, racers will use a lot more of it, negating the advantage.

Sunoco 260 GT, a popular race fuel, has a stoichiometric air/fuel ratio of 14.1:1. The ideal air/fuel ratio for E85-R is 9.8:1. Methanol is happiest around 6.5:1. “This ratio is mass air/mass fuel,” Santner explains. “If we take the inverse of these ratios, we can have mass of fuel needed per mass of air brought into engine. Methanol would be 0.15 while 260 GT is 0.07, meaning roughly half as much fuel mass is needed. Since twice as much mass of methanol is being evaporated in the intake, there will be even more cooling in the intake, leading to a denser air/fuel mixture.” 

While methanol is popular in some forms of motorsports, sports car racing isn’t always on that list. The fact that methanol burns clear can be an issue. Many sanctioning bodies either specifically ban it or don’t list it under their approved fuels.