New Resource Provides Methanol Handling Guidance

By Gregory Dolan | November 13, 2008
In April, a welder working at a biodiesel plant in Alberta, Canada, touched off an explosion that ended his life and damaged the 5 MMgy facility. The next month, a contract welder at a 4 MMgy biodiesel plant in Princess Anne, Md., also ignited an explosion that killed the worker. While the investigations from both of these accidents are ongoing, the most likely "fuel" for these explosions was methanol vapors. On a smaller scale, similar accidents have occurred involving "backyard biodiesel blenders," including a fire that left a barn burned to the ground in Oregon.

For the Methanol Institute, the global trade association for the methanol industry, these incidents represent a serious product stewardship challenge. Accidents such as these are very preventable, had the welders understood the risks of working around methanol. First, as we tell callers to our global trade association looking to purchase methanol for biodiesel production, methanol is a flammable and hazardous chemical that should only be handled by trained professionals in an industrial setting. Having said that, we do have members that sell 55-gallon drums of methanol to individuals, although some distributors will not ship to a residential or farm address, and others require a minimum order of several drums.

From our homepage at, we have an online "Methanol Source Request" for producers looking to purchase methanol. Just tell us where your facility is located and how much methanol you need, and we share your information with our members and encourage them to contact you directly.

Many biodiesel plant operators and home blenders are unfamiliar with methanol, so the first task is to impart some basic facts about its physical properties, and how to properly store and handle this flammable and hazardous chemical. The Methanol Institute has recently published the "Methanol Safe Handling Manual," to serve as a guidance document for methanol distributors and downstream customers such as biodiesel producers. The manual was developed by Alliance Consulting International, an environmental and health and safety professional services firm based in San Diego. The manual is available free on the "Health, Safety and Environment" page of the Methanol Institute's Web site, To serve a global market, this document will soon be translated into Chinese, Spanish, Japanese and Arabic. In 2009, we will produce a companion Methanol Safe Handling video.

The manual is designed to be a resource for information on methanol specifically for those responsible for its safe handling. It presents current information on methanol's properties, potential environmental, health and safety hazards, safe handling practices, emergency response procedures, product and distribution stewardship, and risk communication.

The manual's chapter organization and content are intended to provide readers with convenient access to practical information. Key facts and useful references are highlighted in the text. Additional technical data, such as methanol's chemical, physical and thermodynamic properties, can be found in the appendices. The reference section presents a list of scientific and technical resources for more in-depth research.

We understand that expertise in the safe handling of methanol is available in every corner of the globe. We hope to capture this expertise in future editions of the manual. We welcome comments, questions and feedback via e-mail at

Gregory Dolan is the vice president of the Methanol Institute. Reach him at or (703) 248-3636.
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