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Interesting history of chemical material –Methanol

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Interesting history of chemical material –Methanol


Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol amongst other names, is a chemical with the formula CH3OH (a methyl group linked to a hydroxyl group, often abbreviated MeOH). Methanol acquired the name wood alcohol because it was once produced chiefly by the destructive distillation of wood. Today, methanol is mainly produced industrially by hydrogenation of carbon monoxide.


Methanol is the simplest alcohol, consisting of a methyl group linked to a hydroxyl group. It is a light, volatile, colorless, flammable liquid with a distinctive odor similar to that of ethanol (drinking alcohol). Methanol is however far more toxic than ethanol. At room temperature, it is a polar liquid. With more than 20 million tons produced annually, it is used as a precursor to other commodity chemicals, including formaldehyde, acetic acid, methyl tert-butyl ether, as well as a host of more specialized chemicals.


In their embalming process, the ancient Egyptians used a mixture of substances, including methanol, which they obtained from the pyrolysis of wood. Pure methanol, however, was first isolated in 1661 by Robert Boyle, when he produced it via the distillation of buxus (boxwood). It later became known as "pyroxylic spirit". In 1834, the French chemists Jean-Baptiste Dumas and Eugene Peligot determined its elemental composition.They also introduced the word "methylène" to organic chemistry, forming it from Greek methy = "alcoholic liquid" + hȳlē = "forest, wood, timber, material". "Methylène" designated a "radical" that was about 14% hydrogen by weight and contained one carbon atom. This would be CH2, but at the time carbon was thought to have an atomic weight only six times that of hydrogen, so they gave the formula as CH.They then called wood alcohol (l'esprit de bois) "bihydrate de méthylène" (bihydrate because they thought the formula was C4H8O4 = (CH)4(H2O)2). The term "methyl" was derived in about 1840 by back-formation from "methylene", and was then applied to describe "methyl alcohol". This was shortened to "methanol" in 1892 by the International Conference on Chemical Nomenclature.The suffix -yl, which, in organic chemistry, forms names of carbon groups, is from the word methyl.


In 1923, the German chemists Alwin Mittasch and Mathias Pier, working for Badische-Anilin & Soda-Fabrik (BASF), developed a means to convert synthesis gas (a mixture of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen) into methanol. US patent 1,569,775 (US 1569775) was applied for on 4 Sep 1924 and issued on 12 January 1926; the process used a chromium and manganese oxide catalyst with extremely vigorous conditions: pressures ranging from 50 to 220 atm, and temperatures up to 450 °C. Modern methanol production has been made more efficient through use of catalysts (commonly copper) capable of operating at lower pressures. The modern low pressure methanol (LPM) process was developed by ICI in the late 1960s US 3326956 with the technology patent since long expired.


During World War II, methanol was used as a fuel in several German military rocket designs, under the name M-Stoff, and in a roughly 50/50 mixture with hydrazine, known as C-Stoff.


The use of methanol as a motor fuel received attention during the oil crises of the 1970s. By the mid-1990s, over 20,000 methanol "flexible fuel vehicles" capable of operating on methanol or gasoline were introduced in the U.S. In addition, low levels of methanol were blended in gasoline fuels sold in Europe during much of the 1980s and early-1990s. Automakers stopped building methanol FFVs by the late-1990s, switching their attention to ethanol-fueled vehicles. While the methanol FFV program was a technical success, rising methanol pricing in the mid- to late-1990s during a period of slumping gasoline pump prices diminished interest in methanol fuels.


In the early 1970s, a process was developed by Mobil for producing gasoline fuel from methanol.


Between the 1960s and 1980s methanol emerged as a precursor to the feedstock chemicals acetic acid and acetic anhydride. These processes include the Monsanto acetic acid synthesis, Cativa process, and Tennessee Eastman acetic anhydride process.


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