We often hear about and talk about the “Hydrogen Economy“, an energy system that is centered around the use of hydrogen (H2) as the main energy carrier. Such a system is attractive for three main reasons: i.) the associated CO2 emissions can approach zero (assume H2 is produced from water splitting using renewable electricity from solar or wind), ii.) H2 can be efficiently converted to electricity by H2 fuel cells, and iii.) H2 fuel can be used in many different applications ranging from transportation to general electricity use.
Another alternative is the “Methanol Economy” in which the primary energy carrier is methanol. The primary advantage of methanol over hydrogen is its ability to be stored as a liquid at room temperature and pressure, making a methanol storage and transport infrastructure much more simple (low cost) and energy efficient. Currently, methanol is produced predominantly from syngas (CO + H2) produced from fossil fuels, but it can also be made directly from the reduction of CO2 (with H2O providing the H2).
For a high-level overview of the methanol economy, here is an excellent article in Angewandte Chemie written by George Olah, the 1994 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry and major advocate of the methanol economy: