06/04/2012 23:20
Benzene, methanol mixture sparks hopes of bringing down gas prices, providing environmentally friendly alternative.

A new experiment that will combine methanol and regular petroleum gasoline has sparked hopes of reducing gas prices by 50 agorot per liter, as well as providing a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional gasoline.

The Netanya-based Ten Petroleum Company, an owner of many gas stations around the country, has partnered with Haifa firm Dor Chemicals, which is manufacturing a fuel called M15 – which is 85-percent benzene and 15% methanol – to be used in an upcoming pilot program.

During a six-month experimental phase, Ten will provide a line of 11 cars to operate on the new fuel, with the ability to fill up their tanks at local Haifa Ten stations. The companies, led by Dor Chemicals, are working with the support of both the Energy and Water Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry.

“The goal of this experiment is to show that with this blend, there is no need to make any changes or any adaptations – not to the car and not to the gas pumps,” Danny Ben-Ner, CEO of Ten, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

Methanol is a particularly attractive fuel substance to Israel, as it can be easily extracted from natural gas.

“Because Israel has become rich in natural gas, this method of using methanol can be used instead of gasoline,” Ben-Ner said. “Here we have a chance of being independent in our energy sources.”

The emissions from natural gas, and thereby methanol, are much less toxic than those of regular benzene, explained Dr. Lea Carmel Goren, a cleantech expert and scientific advisor to Ten.

While the caloric values of methanol are about half those of benzene, the price is less than half – so per kilometer, using some portion of methanol is also beneficial, Goren told the Post.

Meanwhile, she said, because it is biodegradable, methanol provides a decreased risk of environmental damage, should leaks occur.

Carmel Goren had particular praise for the Energy and Water Ministry’s support for the project, noting that “it’s not very popular to support government offices in their activities but I have to say that in this case, it’s a great collaboration between different ministry offices and this pilot is led by Uzi Landau’s office.”

The project, she stressed, will be highly monitored from all aspects, testing and evaluating the fuel’s performance in all ways possible.

Natural gas is not only being used to create methanol for vehicles, but it is also being used in some vehicles in the form of compressed natural gas (CNG), an entirely natural gas fuel source.

However, because CNG requires an entirely separate tank, at this point, Ben-Ner said he thinks it will remain less popular than using a benzenemethanol blend.

“But I believe that in the near future, we’ll see it – I call it a supermarket of energy sources in our gas stations,” he said, predicting a wide array of natural gas, benzene and electric fuel options to be on the market soon.

“I believe that we are going to produce a diverse range of sources.”

That being said, also on Monday, the Israel Standards Institute announced that it had published a new standard – Standard 6235 – for CNG-vehicle gas stations. The standard was written by the Energy and Water Ministry, stipulating the technical requirements for design, construction, operation and maintenance of such fueling stations, and for integration at existing fueling stations.

Standards are documents that provide technical specifications for products to ensure that they are suited for their intended purpose, according to the Israel Standards Institute. After receiving institute approval, a standard is voluntary, until the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry determines that all or part of it is binding, according to elements such as public health, safety and environmental quality. Only then does it become an official standard.

Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau announced two weeks ago that it had achieved the publication of another natural gas standard, Standard 6119, about CNG-vehicle propulsion, enabling natural gas’s vehicular use in a much more regulated, widespread fashion. That same day, the ministry said that it was working on the publication of a second Israeli standard dealing with natural gas refueling stations – the standard announced by the Standards Institute on Monday.

“This standard is another significant step that will allow use of green and cheaper transport, and will reduce our dependence on oil, using natural gas reserves found off the coasts of Israel,” said Danny Goldstein, CEO of the Israel Standards Institute.

“In addition, this standard will help in implementing the government’s decision on reducing oil dependence by directing resources to developing alternative fuel.”

Yossi Antverg, a coordinator of the pilot project on behalf of Dor Chemicals and a former CEO of the company, said that the ultimate purpose of the experiment is to “confirm and prove that this can work in Israel,” noting that methanol is already widely used in other countries.

Antverg added that after the pilot concludes, Dor Chemicals intends to build a $400-million factory in the Negev that will produce about half a million tons of methanol per year.