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What is Wood Alcohol?

By Debra Durkee
Updated May 17, 2024
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Wood alcohol is also known as meythl alcohol or methanol. It gets its name from the fact that it is produced by natural, organic materials including wood products like sawdust and also coal, grasses, and seaweeds. This product is used as an alternative and renewable fuel source as well as in manufacturing. Wood alcohol has been around for decades, but with the shortages of many commodities that came with World War II, new ways were developed to use this abundant fuel.

At one time, car manufacturers built some vehicles to run solely on wood alcohol. With the discontinuation of these cars, there has still been research on the viability of using wood alcohol as a renewable, environmentally friendly fuel. In fact, many professional racing organizations across the world use this fuel mixed with unleaded gasoline.

It is also an important component in manufacturing. Wood alcohol is used as an ingredient in chemicals ranging from formaldehyde to cleaning materials such as windshield washer fluid. Many types of paints contain some form of the chemical, and it is also a major component in dyes and fabrics such as polyester. Acetic acid is also created by a chemical process that involves wood alcohol, and this acid is then in turn used in the manufacture of plastics and glues. When the fuel undergoes a chemical process, it can also be used to create hydrogen.

As it is produced from renewable sources, wood alcohol has been examined as a valuable resource in the alternative fuel industry. Generally cleaner burning than other types of fuels, it can be easily produced from a number of sources. It is relatively low cost, and easier to work with than many types of natural gas due in large part to its lower flammability.

Methanol is still a dangerous compound, and should be labeled properly with the appropriate safety information. If an individual is exposed to it without protection, it can result in loss of consciousness, blurry vision, and difficulty breathing. Prolonged exposure can cause neurological damage, poisoning, permanent damage to vision, and lesions on the brain. Some individuals may suffer from convulsions or seizures if they breathe the fumes. While it is less flammable than many types of natural gas, there is still a danger of explosion should it be exposed to a flame.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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Discussion Comments

By AnswerMan — On Feb 08, 2014

I remember hearing stories about people drinking what they thought was pure grain alcohol and it turned out to be wood alcohol. A lot of them went completely blind, and a few actually died.

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