Seven Cents a Mile

Seven Cents a Mile

Seven cents a mile is the approximate cost of using methanol fuel in an economy car right now in 2011.

Methanol can be made from several sources including coal, wood, or manure. The cheapest source of methanol is methane. Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, can be converted to liquid methanol by adding oxygen. (2CH4 + O2 = 2CH3OH) Right now methanol can be supplied to the North American market for $1.38 per gallon1. Wholesale gasoline costs around $2.97 per gallon and ethanol $2.94 per gallon2.

Cost per gallon isn’t the right measurement to use to compare fuels. Different fuels have different energy values measured in BTUs. Gasoline has an average BTU value of 116,000. Ethanol ranks at 77,000, and methanol at 65,000. It takes 1.5 gallons of ethanol to equal the energy in a gallon of gasoline and 1.8 gallons of methanol. A gallon of gasoline will push a car farther than a gallon of ethanol, and so on.

The right measurement is cost per mile. To get cost per mile: adjust the price for energy equivalency and use a car that gets 35 mpg with regular gasoline.

Gasoline
1 gal. = $2.97
$2.97/35 mi.  =     8.5 ¢ per mile
Ethanol
1.5 gal. = $4.41
$4.41/35 mi.  =  12.6 ¢ per mile
Methanol
1.8 gal. = $2.48
$2.48/35 mi.  =   7.1 ¢ per mile

1 Methanex Non-Discounted Reference Price USD 1.38/Gal. North America (Valid October 1 – 31, 2011)

2http://www.neo.ne.gov/statshtml/66.htmlfor August 2011.

Fun Fact:

     David Pimental, a leading Cornell University agricultural expert, has calculated that powering the average U.S. automobile for one year on ethanol (blended with gasoline) derived from corn would require 11 acres of farmland, the same space needed to grow a year’s supply of food for seven people. Adding up the energy costs of corn production and its conversion into ethanol, 131,000 BTUs are needed to make one gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTUS. Thus, 70 percent more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually is in it. Every time you make one gallon of ethanol, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs.

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