An Overview of Methyl Alcohol Production

Posted on: June 6, 2023

Methyl alcohol, also known as methanol, is a colourless, flammable, and toxic liquid. It is used as a feedstock to produce formaldehyde, acetic acid, and other chemicals. Methyl alcohol is also used as a solvent, fuel, and antifreeze agent. This blog will provide an overview of methyl alcohol production, including its raw materials, manufacturing process.

Uses Of Methyl Alcohol

One of the primary uses of methyl alcohol is as a solvent in numerous industrial processes. Its ability to dissolve a wide range of organic and inorganic compounds makes it valuable in industries such as paint and varnish manufacturing, printing, and dye production. Methyl alcohol is also utilized as a cleaning agent for removing oils, greases, and other contaminants.

Methyl alcohol also serves as a vital reagent in various chemical reactions. It is commonly used in the production of formaldehyde, acetic acid, and other chemicals. Additionally, it acts as a catalyst or reactant in the synthesis of pharmaceuticals, plastics, and synthetic fibers. Its presence enhances reaction rates and yields, making it an essential component in the chemical industry.

Raw Materials

The raw materials used in methyl alcohol production are coal, natural gas, and biomass. Coal is the most used feedstock for the synthesis gas process. Natural gas is also used as a feedstock, particularly in regions where it is abundant and inexpensive. Biomass, such as wood and agricultural waste, can also be used as a feedstock.

Feedstock For Methyl Alcohol 

Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol, is primarily produced from carbon-based feedstocks. The most common feedstocks used in commercial methyl alcohol production are natural gas, coal, and biomass.

Natural Gas: Methanol production from natural gas involves a process called steam reforming. Natural gas, which primarily consists of methane (CH4), is reacted with steam (H2O) at high temperatures in the presence of a catalyst. This process produces a mixture of hydrogen gas (H2) and carbon monoxide (CO), known as synthesis gas or syngas. The syngas is then further processed through catalytic reactions to convert it into methanol.

Coal: Coal can also be used as a feedstock for methanol production. The coal is first gasified to produce syngas,  similar to  the process used with natural gas. The syngas is then converted into methanol through additional chemical reactions.

Biomass: Biomass feedstocks, such as agricultural residues, forestry waste, or energy crops, can be utilized for methanol production through a process known as biomass gasification. Biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen to produce a syngas, which is then converted into methanol.

 It’s worth noting that the choice of feedstock depends on factors such as availability, cost, and environmental considerations. The use of natural gas as a feedstock is currently the most common method due to its abundance and cost-effectiveness. However, there is increasing interest in utilizing renewable biomass feedstocks to produce methanol as a more sustainable alternative.

Production Methods

Destructive Distillation

Destructive distillation is the process of heating organic materials, such as wood or coal, in the absence of air to produce volatile compounds. The resulting gases are cooled and condensed to produce a liquid, which is then separated into various components. In the case of methyl alcohol production, the liquid is distilled to separate the methyl alcohol from other compounds.

Synthesis Gas

Synthesis gas, also known as syngas, is a mixture of carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and other gases. It is produced by heating coal, natural gas, or biomass in the presence of steam and oxygen. The resulting gas mixture is cooled and purified, and the carbon monoxide and hydrogen are reacted in the presence of a catalyst to produce methyl alcohol.


Biomass, such as wood chips, agricultural waste, or municipal solid waste, can be converted to methyl alcohol through a process known as gasification. In gasification, the biomass is heated in the presence of oxygen to produce syngas, which is then converted to methyl alcohol using a catalyst.

Environmental Impact

Methyl alcohol production can have a significant environmental impact due to its high energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts are being made to reduce the environmental impact of methyl alcohol production  through the use of  renewable feedstocks, carbon capture and storage, and other sustainable practices.

Future Outlook 

The demand for methyl alcohol is expected to increase in the coming years due to its versatility and low cost. Technological advancements, such as the development of advanced synthesis technologies and the use of renewable feedstocks, are expected to further improve efficiency and reduce environmental impact.


Methyl alcohol, also known as methanol, is an important chemical feedstock, solvent, fuel, and antifreeze. It is produced through various methods, including destructive distillation, synthesis gas, and biomass gasification. Methyl alcohol has a long history of industrial-scale production and is used in a wide range of applications, from the production of formaldehyde and acetic acid to fuel and antifreeze.

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