"Since 1965, methanol has been the only racing fuel used by the Indianapolis 500. Methanol also is an ideal hydrogen carrier fuel for fuel cell technology applications." That's a direct quote from the Methanol Institute website. Now how'd you like to have that under the hood of your old beater?
Methanol, known commonly as wood alcohol, can be made from almost any raw material that contains carbon. The production process requires a catalyst. The Methanoliacs' website says it requires nickel. That's not so bad. Nickel being relatively inexpensive.
But the catalytic needs don't end there. Using methanol in fuel cells to produce electricity requires a second catalyst. In the past this has been platinum. And that precious metal makes gold look cheap. Prices now are over $1900 per ounce.
Now comes some research from Europe that promises an even more efficient catalytic process using cheaper materials. The need for platinum is not eliminated but greatly reduced. And it is more than just the composition of the platinum allow that the research deals with. Says a summary report, it is the actual form of the platinum crystals: "if the platinum alloy is structured amorphously, its electrical conduction properties are enhanced and it undergoes less corrosion (advantages for the medium in which it has to operate). Moreover, it has an operational capacity in the order of 80-100 times greater than platinum in a crystalline structure. Amorphous materials are those with a disordered molecular structure."
This will NOT lower the price of the platinum, of course, but it means far more economical catalysts can be made far more efficient. Perhaps a truly significant step toward realizing the long-awaited promise of widely useful fuel cells.