methanol, methyl alcohol, or wood alcohol, CH3OH, a colorless, flammable liquid that is miscible with water in all proportions. Methanol is a monohydric alcohol. It melts at - 97.8°C and boils at 67°C. It reacts with certain acids to form methyl esters. Methanol is a fatal poison. Small internal doses, continued inhalation of the vapor, or prolonged exposure of the skin to the liquid may cause blindness. As a result, commercial use of methanol has sometimes been prohibited. Methanol is used as a solvent for varnishes and lacquers, as an antifreeze, and as a gasoline extender in the production of gasohol. Large amounts of it are used in the synthesis of formaldehyde. Because of its poisonous properties, methanol is also used as a denaturant for ethanol. Methanol is often called wood alcohol because it was once produced chiefly as a byproduct of the destructive distillation of wood. It is now produced synthetically by the direct combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide gases, heated under pressure in the presence of a catalyst.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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