Why is methanol used as a solvent?

Do you ever wonder why scientists always seem to bring up methanol whenever the subject of solvents comes up? Well, if you’re tired of feeling like everyone else gets this inside joke except for you, then buckle up because we are about to take on a wild ride into the world of methanol (not literally though).

What is methanol?

Methanol is not just some random word that scientists call each other when they want to sound cool. It’s actually a colorless liquid with an alcohol odor and also known as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol. Yes, folks! They derive it from burning trees 🌲🔥. Good luck lighting your fireplace with those fancy-smelling logs now!

Okay, jokes aside, since its discovery in 1661 by Robert Boyle (the guy who studied gases), it has become one of the most commonly used solvents worldwide owing to its versatility and affordability.

What makes it so special?

Methanol dissolves almost anything

If there’s something that refuses to dissolve in water or ethanol (regular drinking alcohol), try soaking them in methanols instead! Seriously though; thanks to its polarity and low molecular weight (<30 g/mol.), it can break down materials such as plant pigments like chlorophyll which cannot be dissolved by regular solvents.

It boils at a lower temperature than other alcohols

As compared to ethanol or isopropyl alcohols (IPA) which need high temperatures above their boiling point (~78 °C/173 °F) before they convert into vapors for separation during distillation; Methanol boils at around -64°C /-83°F allowing distillation even at room temperature 😮.

Moreover, If you’ve been subjected unwittingly since birthto sniffing permanent markers, blame the action on the polymer blend that solubilizes in methanols, also allowing for their prolonged smell and ink like quality.

It’s a perfect choice as a fuel source

If you’re an avid car lover or current working on your science project on renewable energy, chances are; you’ll run into discussions about ethanol being blended with gasoline. However, ethanol has some downsides such as its hygroscopic properties (it mixes easily with water) and high production costs (we’ll leave corn farmers out of this) which make it not so attractive as biofuel compared to Methanol. Besides those features though, blending 10% methanol with regular fuels can intensify combustion leading to enhanced engine performance albeit potentially poisoning your catalytic converter 🚗🔥

Why is it used more than other alcohols?

So why not use one of those well-known “other” alcohols? I mean they’re cheaper although maybe less potent right? While there’s no easy answer here suffice to say that each alcohol brings its own share of specific characteristics depending upon the context utilized ;No judgement at all for any drinking preferences if anyone was wondering 😉.

On one hand, Short alkyl-chain acids have less toxicity levels but higher boiling points hence making them unsuitable when high volatility is desirable- Such fans include Butanol and Pentanol . Longer chains enhance toxicity levels while lowering solvent power – enter octonal 😵‍💫 .

What makes Methanol stand out however,t is ummm let’s just call it “general enchantment” really. Amongst many reasons below outlines how these factors coalesce:


While uncontrolled exposures expose humans mice rats alike more explicitly within the realm of CNS depressants , fortunately microbes similarly exude an affinity towards consuming any stray molecule- barfing up CO2and H2O after digestion ( Siiick!). In other words, methanol biodegrades and hence produces less long-term harm on the environment unlike bio-accumulating halogenated compounds like PCBs.

Low flammability

80% concentration mixture of Methanol with water (makes a pretty good disinfectant BTW) is almost impossible to ignite outside of a combustible engine. As opposed to ethanol or IPA which have higher flammability levels, methanol’s low ignition point (453°F/ 229°C) “cools” flames even in wildfires so unless you’re already inhaling smoke, you should reasonably be safe from building explosions by being nearby this solvent type 👨‍🚒 🔥.

Polar Solvent Dissolving Forces

Methanol placates strongly polar bonds within solutes through hydrogen bonding , ultimately shuffling apart metals such as copper from ores for refining purposes . Against water too,the energy input necessary to dissolve ions opposes that exemplified by dissolving sugars and amino acids flowing directly into biological functions (Stay tuned!)

Final Thoughts

It’s somewhat admirable how much chemistry wizards love their weird-sounding liquids 😁; nonetheless post-traumatic enzyme disorders resulting from lab exposure doesn’t sound too cool 🤕. That said if anyone ever asks why Methanol is used frequently as an industrial cleaner or windshield washer fluid just because it smells distinctively clean and fresh than none others does not mean we should entertain ourselves tasting it.

So that concludes today’s article on the intriguing world of methanols – hopefully giving some new understanding surrounding “why” chemical formulas really matter.No judgement though- Ethylbensenes& Methylbenzene lovers unite! Just stay far away from anything rising temperature above boiling points.

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