When most people think of a car powered by an alternative energy source, an EV or a hybrid car typically come to mind. However, biomethanol, reformed into hydrogen fuel, also holds promise. Where does biomethanol come from? Biomethanol comes from cow manure and other animal waste and biomass. Recently, an animal poop-powered biomethanol car set a world record for distance traveled for a hydrogen vehicle.
French car set distance record by traveling over 1,200 miles on a tank of gas made from biomethanol
To show the effectiveness and capabilities of biomethanol, a team of French engineers attempted the distance record in a modified Renault Zoe electric car, as reported by the Daily Beast. Over the course of three days, “five drivers took turns driving the prototype vehicle around a driving track.” It traveled over 2,000 kilometers (around 1,243 miles) on a single tank of gas made from biomethanol.
The poop-powered car smashed the distance record for a hydrogen car, previously set by the Toyota Mirai (845 miles). The Mirai is currently the only commercially available hydrogen car.
Biomethanol is a clean alternative energy source, producing zero carbon emissions
ARM Engineering, a French transportation research and development firm, developed the biomethanol, “dubbed GH-3.” It created the biofuel “through a process called biomass methanation.” This process takes non-food biomass, such as manure and plant residue, and “turns it into fuel to create electricity for a car’s battery.”
GH-3 is “similar to biofuels in the U.S., such as E85, which is made up of 85 percent corn-based ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.” However, contrary to E85, GH-3 contains no fossil fuels. GH-3 can be “converted to hydrogen that then powers the car.
One of the most significant benefits of biomethanol, and the resulting hydrogen fuel, is that it is a clean energy source, producing zero carbon emissions. Also, hydrogen is “the most abundant element in the known universe.”
Are biomethanol and hydrogen fuel viable alternative energy sources for cars?
From a strictly engineering standpoint, biomethanol and hydrogen fuel are effective energy sources for cars. As shown by the record-breaking poop-powered car, you can travel a long distance with biomethanol/hydrogen cars. Also, considering the need to reduce carbon emissions with regard to climate change, these clean energy sources are an appealing alternative.
Additionally, hydrogen-powered cars are very efficient. The Toyota Mirai gets an estimated fuel economy of up to 76 city/71 highway mpg. Furthermore, as noted earlier, there is an abundance of hydrogen available.
There are factors that limit the viability and practicality of biomethanol/hydrogen fuel for cars, though. For one, it would take a massive build-up infrastructure with a network of hydrogen fuel stations. Virtually the only U.S. state that has many hydrogen stations is California. When the Toyota Mirai debuted in 2014, many people heralded it as a potential breakthrough for alternative energy cars. However, now it’s eight years later, and the sales of the Mirai are very low — and mostly in California. Also, another hydrogen-powered car, the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, was discontinued in 2021.
Another thing that inhibits the production of hydrogen-powered cars is the movement toward electric vehicles. With the automotive industry’s push toward EVs — and more people buying them, there will likely be less appetite for other alternative energy vehicles like hydrogen cars and the necessary infrastructure funding to make them viable.
However, biomethanol/hydrogen fuel cars might make more sense for fleet vehicles. Also, biomethanol/hydrogen fuel can be used outside of the automotive industry, including converting it to electricity for the power grid.