Methanol with the molecular formula CH3OH is the simplest alcohol where alcohols are compounds in which a hydroxy group, —OH, is attached to a saturated carbon atom. Methanol at room temperature and pressure is a colorless liquid. It has a distinctive odor similar to that of ethanol. Methanol is considered to be relatively volatile although methanol can have hydrogen bonds between its molecules which strengthen its intermolecular interactions considerably and result in much higher values for physical properties like melting and boiling points in comparison to those of many other organic and inorganic substances with similar molecular weights.
Industrially methanol is important and is produced in large volumes (more than 20 million tons annually) to be used in many applications from production of other commodity chemicals like formaldehyde and acetic acid to consumption as a fuel. The main production method of methanol in the past was destructive distillation (decomposition at high temperatures usually in the absence of air) of wood where the name wood alcohol for methanol refers to this. Modern main industrial production method of methanol relies on hydrogenation of carbon monoxide at relatively high temperature and pressure in the presence of a catalyst where syngas or synthesis gas provides the reactants.
By natural processes like anaerobic metabolism of many bacteria, methanol is produced naturally and is present in small amounts in the environment and atmosphere where atmospheric methanol is gradually converted to carbon dioxide and water. Methanol is also found naturally with small amounts in human body but its consumption is dangerous for humans and can have severe toxic effects from permanent blindness to death. After its ingestion, it takes hours for its severe toxic effects to come into effect which makes it possible to prevent permanent harms by antidotes in many cases. Unfortunately, methanol is very similar in appearance and odor to ethanol (drinking alcohol) and consumption of methanol in mistake for ethanol is a common cause of poisoning by methanol.