Methyl alcohol or methanol is an organic compound with chemical formula CH4O and CAS number 67-56-1. It is often called wood alcohol, wood naphtha or wood spirit because it was formerly produced via the destructive distillation of wood. The compound has also several other names, like carbinol, columbian spirits, hydroxymethane, or methyl hydrate. Some scientists also call it methyl hydroxide, methylic alcohol, methylol, and pyroligneous spirit. It is known as the simplest of alcohols and is composed of the methyl and hydroxyl group.
In appearance, methanol is a clear colorless liquid with a specific smell. It is fully miscible with water, as well as with benzene, ethanol, ether, most organic solvents and ketones. The compound is highly volatile. Its vapors are heavier than air. This chemical boils at 64.7 °C and melts at −97.6 °C.
Methanol is one of the most essential chemicals in our everyday life. In fact, we are surrounded with products that contain methyl alcohol though we might not even realize it. This chemical is:
- the main ingredient in making the heavy chemicals, like acetic acid, formaldehyde and methyl tert-butylether;
- used as an industrial solvent for adhesives, inks, resins, dyes, etc.;
- an alternative fuel and potential substitute to gasoline;
- used in the manufacture of anti-freeze for automobile radiators;
- a fuel for picnic and boat stoves;
- an ingredient in varnish and paint remover;
- a solvent in the production of vitamins, hormones and other pharmaceuticals;
- a participant of many chemical reactions to produce aromatic systems, hydrocarbons, methyl ethers, methylamines, etc.
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Hazards and Safety Precautions
The two main hazards of methyl alcohol are its toxicity and flammability. It may ignite when exposed to flame, heat or oxidizers. Its vapor and air create an explosive mixture.
This chemical is a dangerous poison. If swallowed, it causes damage to organs, may lead to blindness and even be fatal. The vapor irritates eyes, causes drowsiness, headache, and fatigue. The high concentrations of the substance trigger the depression of the central nervous system.