US to allow methanol fuel cells on aircraft

20 September 2007 22:44  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US transportation officials said on Thursday they will join other nations in allowing airline passengers in-flight use of methanol-powered fuel cell devices, a step considered a major advance by the US methanol industry.


The Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a proposed rule to amend federal Hazardous Materials Regulations that generally bar passengers from taking flammable liquids on board airliners.


The department said it wants to “permit certain fuel cell cartridges and fuel cell systems designed for portable electronic devices to be transported by passengers and crew in carry-on baggage on board passenger-carrying aircraft”.


The rule change “would cover fuel cells containing certain hazardous materials, flammable liquids, including methanol, formic acid, certain borohydride materials or butane” that meet performance and consumer use standards.


Greg Dolan, vice president for communications and policy at the Methanol Institute, said the department’s action “removes a significant barrier to commercialisation of micro fuel cells”.


“Having the ability to take fuel-cell powered personal electronic devices on board commercial aircraft and change micro methanol cartridges in flight is a key prerequisite for market introduction of these devices,” Dolan said.


The International Civil Aviation Organization last year adopted provisions for transporting and using fuel cell systems powered by methanol in passenger compartments.


Several countries, including Japan, China, Canada and the UK, have already adopted those provisions in their national aviation regulations.


Approval by US transportation regulators was seen as essential to allowing commercial roll-out of fuel-cell powered laptops, cell phones and hand-held computers.


Market introduction of such methanol-powered electronic devices is expected in Japan before the end of next year, and broad market penetration is considered likely by 2012.


Dolan said some estimates say widespread use of methanol-powered personal electronic devices could generate additional demand for as much as 200m gal/year of methanol, which would add only a slim 1.5% to total current global methanol consumption of some 13bn gal/year.


However, Dolan said, widespread consumer use of methanol-powered fuel cell devices would build public acceptance for methanol as a preferred fuel for automobile fuel cell technology that is expected in the next decade. 


Use of methanol as an automotive fuel cell energy source would create major additional consumption and demand.


The Transportation Department’s proposed rule is subject to public comment for 60 days. Final approval is likely early in the new year.

By: Joe Kamalick
+1 713 525 2653

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