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What types of motors use methanol racing fuel?

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Quick Answer

Methanol can theoretically be used to fuel almost any combustion engine that can use ethanol or gasoline fuel, but methanol is most popular as a fuel for racing vehicles and some model aircraft engines. The hygroscopic nature of methanol and its potential to corrode engine parts that are not specially treated to withstand methanol's effects have limited its widespread use as a fuel to these specialized applications.

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Full Answer

Methanol is the simplest alcohol, as it contains only one methyl group and one hydroxyl group, unlike ethanol, which consists of two methyl groups and a hydroxyl group. This results in a lower energy density per gallon as compared to ethanol or gasoline, so an engine running on methanol has a lower effective gas mileage than the same engine using other fuels. However, methanol's high effective octane rating of 114 means that the engine produces more power instantaneously when burning methanol as compared to gasoline. This short-term power improvement is one of the reasons methanol is popular as a drag racing fuel in particular.

While engines that burn gasoline can potentially burn methanol as well, the differences in the behavior of the two fuels require significant re-tuning of most engines to run efficiently on methanol. Components such as hoses must also be replaced with components less sensitive to corrosion. Fuel tanks containing methanol must also be more tightly sealed than gasoline fuel tanks to avoid the methanol becoming diluted as it absorbs water from the surrounding air.

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