Liquid Fuels (Reed, 2002) [WGT02500]

Dr. Thomas B. Reed wrote on his Biomass Energy Foundation website:

Currently (2002) we obtain over 80% of world energy from petroleum, our “birthright” gift from Mother Nature. Predictions differ as to when world petroleum production will peak and then start to decline. Some say as early as 2008; others pooh pooh this and act as if tar oil shale, sands, bitumen and other ucky stuff will prolong the oil age (but at ever increasing prices) through their lifetimes and that seems to be all they care about.

I have 4 children and 7 grandchildren (not to mention the rest of you) who will also need liquid fuels, so I have been motivated for 25 years to find alternate, renewable fuels. Unfortunately, the oil companies are not motivated to encourage any competition from alternative fuels. Read how they killed methanol in 1974.

Some liquid fuels (ethanol) are made by biological processes, slow with lots of water. They are currently not competitive with oil except with subsidies. Others (synthetic methanol, Fischer Tropsch diesel) are made by gasification of organic energy sources (biomass, coal and natural and landfill gas) and conversion to liquid fuel.

In 1973 (the year of the first OPEC Fuel Crisis) I began testing methanol as an alternative fuel with great success in 10% blends with gasoline in 10 cars. I wrote an article for the journal Science "Methanol: A Versatile Fuel for Immediate Use" (Vol. 182, pp 1299, 1973) showing that methanol was the easiest alternative fuel to make by gasification and one of the best for engines and fuel cells. That article changed my life from being a material scientist at MIT to a fuel scientist at NREL, the Colorado School of Mines and now the Biomass Energy Foundation. In addition to methanol there are groups that promote “ecalene”, a mixture of many alcohols that have more energy than pure methanol and are more compatible with gasoline.

I have operated my own personal cars on mixtures of 10% methanol and pure methanol. Methanol is a component today in making biodiesel which we also developed at the Colorado School of Mines in 1990.

Other Alcohols

Ethanol is currently the favored alcohol fuel in the US (from corn) and Brazil (sugar cane). But there are other alcohol choices on this page. 


Biodiesel is another alternate fuel, though it is not made by gasification.


Hydrogen as a fuel has been much in the news lately. This is a red herring. Hydrogen does not occur naturally and must be made from other fuels and energy sources, always with some and usually considerable loss of energy. In my view, hydrogen is being touted either by those who don’t understand the source to application chain that must be in place for any new fuel to be successful, or by those who are cynically diverting the view from our current wasteful energy policies by promising pie in the sky in the future. But, if you think hydrogen may be the answer, read an extended review by some responsible scientists working in the field.