Solar methanol and the third industrial revolution
The Hydrogen Economy has often been touted as the next big energy source. However, due to the prohibitive cost of its infrastructure, hydrogen has gone out of favour. Fairly recently, Professor George Olah, Nobel Laureate, has proposed using methanol (think methylated spirits). Methanol is a liquid at room temperature, it can be used in the pre-existing gasoline infrastructure and, unlike LNG, it can be transported by ordinary oil tanker.
However, the tantalising promise of methanol is that it can be used as a fuel in a fuel cell. Fuel cells can operate at an efficiency of 80 per cent, as against gas-fired steam turbines of 50 per cent, and coal-fired steam turbines of 40 per cent. These are best practice numbers; many Chinese coal-fired steam turbines are much less efficient than 40 per cent.