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Systematic name methanol
Other names hydroxymethane
methyl alcohol
methyl hydrate
wood alcohol
Molecular formula CH3OH
Molar mass 32.04 g/mol
Appearance colourless liquid
CAS number [67-56-1]
Density and phase 0.7918 g/cm³, liquid
Solubility in water Fully miscible
Melting point –97 °C (176 K)
Boiling point 64.7 °C (337.8 K)
Acidity (pKa) ~ 15.5
Viscosity 0.59 mPa·s at 20 °C
Molecular shape Tetrahedral and Bent
Dipole moment 1.69 D (gas)
MSDS External MSDS
EU classification Flammable (F)
Toxic (T)
NFPA 704
NFPA 704.svg

R-phrases R11

, R23/24/25 ,

  1. REDIRECT Template:(S1/2)

, S7 , S16 ,
S36/37 , S45

Flash point 11 °C
Flammable limits
in air (by volume)
6.72% - 36.50%
RTECS number PC1400000
Supplementary data page
Structure & properties n, εr, etc.
Thermodynamic data Phase behaviour
Solid, liquid, gas
Spectral data UV, IR, NMR, MS
Related compounds
Related alkanols ethanol
Related compounds chloromethane
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for
materials in their standard state (at 25°C, 100 kPa)
Infobox disclaimer and references

Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, carbinol, wood alcohol, wood naptha or wood spirits, is a chemical compound with chemical formula CH3OH. It is the simplest alcohol, and is a light, volatile, colourless, flammable, poisonous liquid with a distinctive odor that is somewhat milder and sweeter than ethanol (ethyl alcohol). It is used as an antifreeze, solvent, fuel, and as a denaturant for ethyl alcohol.

Methanol is produced naturally in the anaerobic metabolism of many varieties of bacteria. As a result, there is a small fraction of methanol vapor in the atmosphere. Over the course of several days, atmospheric methanol is oxidized by oxygen with the help of sunlight to carbon dioxide and water.

Methanol burns in air forming carbon dioxide and water:

2 CH3OH + 3 O2 → 2 CO2 + 4 H2O

A methanol flame is almost colorless. Care should be exercised around burning methanol to avoid burning oneself on the almost invisible fire.

Because of its poisonous properties, methanol is frequently used as a denaturant additive for ethanol manufactured for industrial uses— this addition of a poison economically exempts industrial ethanol from the rather significant 'liquor' taxes that would otherwise be levied as it is the essence of all potable alcoholic beverages. Methanol is often called wood alcohol because it was once produced chiefly as a byproduct of the destructive distillation of wood. It is now produced synthetically by a multi-step process. In short, natural gas and steam are reformed in a furnace to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide; then, hydrogen and carbon monoxide gases react under pressure in the presence of a catalyst. The reforming step is endothermic and the synthesis step is exothermic.

Health and safety

Methanol is intoxicating but not directly poisonous. It is toxic by its breakdown (toxication) by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase in the liver by forming formic acid and formaldehyde which cause blindness by destruction of the optic nerve.[1] Methanol ingestion can also be fatal due to its CNS depressant properties in the same manner as ethanol poisoning. It enters the body by ingestion, inhalation, or absorption through the skin. Fetal tissue will not tolerate methanol. Dangerous doses will build up if a person is regularly exposed to vapors or handles liquid without skin protection. If methanol has been ingested, a doctor should be contacted immediately. The usual fatal dose is 100–125 mL (4 fl oz). Toxic effects take hours to start, and effective antidotes can often prevent permanent damage. This is treated using ethanol or fomepizole.[2] Either of these drugs acts to slow down the action of alcohol dehydrogenase on methanol by means of competitive inhibition, so that it is excreted by the kidneys rather than being transformed into toxic metabolites.

The initial symptoms of methanol intoxication are those of central nervous system depression: headache, dizziness, nausea, lack of coordination, confusion, drowsiness, and with sufficiently large doses, unconsciousness and death. The initial symptoms of methanol exposure are usually less severe than the symptoms resulting from the ingestion of a similar quantity of ethyl alcohol.

Once the initial symptoms have passed, a second set of symptoms arises 10–30 hours after the initial exposure to methanol: blurring or complete loss of vision, together with acidosis. These symptoms result from the accumulation of toxic levels of formate in the bloodstream, and may progress to death by respiratory failure. The ester derivatives of methanol do not share this toxicity.

Ethanol is sometimes denatured (adulterated), and thus made undrinkable, by the addition of methanol. The result is known as methylated spirit or "meths" (UK use). (The latter should not be confused with meth, a common abbreviation for methamphetamine.)

Pure methanol has been used in open wheel racing since the mid-1960s. Unlike petroleum fires, methanol fires can be extinguished with plain water (while methanol is less dense than water, they are miscible, and the addition of water will cause the fire to use its heat to boil the water). In addition, a methanol-based fire burns invisibly, unlike gasoline, which burns with thick black smoke. If a fire occurs on the track, there is no smoke to obstruct the view of fast approaching drivers. The decision to permanently switch to methanol in American IndyCar racing was a result of the devastating crash and explosion at the 1964 Indianapolis 500 which killed drivers Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald.

One concern with the addition of methanol to automotive fuels is highlighted by recent groundwater impacts from the fuel additive methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE). Leaking underground gasoline storage tanks created MTBE plumes in groundwater that eventually contaminated well water. Methanol's high solubility in water raises concerns that similar well water contamination could arise from the widespread use of methanol as an automotive fuel.

See also


  1. Methanol and Blindness. Ask A Scientist, Chemistry Archive.
  2. (January 2001)"Fomepizole in the Treatment of Poisoning" in Pediatrics Volume 107 (No. 1). Retrieved on 22 May 2007.

External links

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