Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha or wood spirits, is a chemical with formula CH3OH (often abbreviated MeOH). It is the simplest alcohol, and is a light, volatile, colorless, flammable, liquid with a distinctive odor that is very similar to but slightly sweeter than ethanol (drinking alcohol). At room temperature it is a polar liquid and is used as an antifreeze, solvent, fuel, and as a denaturant for ethanol. It is also used for producing biodiesel via transesterification reaction.
Methanol is a common laboratory solvent. It is especially useful for HPLC and UV/VIS spectroscopy due to its low UV cutoff.
The largest use of methanol by far is in making other chemicals. About 40% of methanol is converted to formaldehyde, and from there into products as diverse as plastics, plywood, paints, explosives, and permanent press textiles.
Other chemical derivatives of methanol include dimethyl ether, which has replaced chlorofluorocarbons as an aerosol spray propellant, and acetic acid. Dimethyl ether, or "DME" also can be blended with liquified petroleum gas (LPG) for home heating and cooking, and can be used as a diesel replacement transportation fuel.
Methanol is a traditional denaturant for ethanol, thus giving the term methylated spirit.
Methanol is also used as a solvent, and as an antifreeze in pipelines and windshield washer fluid.
In some wastewater treatment plants, a small amount of methanol is added to wastewater to provide a food source of carbon for the denitrifying bacteria, which convert nitrates to nitrogen to reduce the denitrification of sensitive aquifers.
Methanol is used as a denaturing agent in polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis.