Dimethyl ether as diesel fuel alternative could be going places

There are things I get excited about and dimethyl ether (DME) is one of them.

I’ll explain. On June 19th I wrote about the fuel in “CATS: Biogas producer may be onto something with DME.” I asked: “But what if DME production were upped significantly? Doing just that would be far-reaching in terms of its implications in my view, not just with regard to diesel application in the transportation arena but outside as well.”

Soybean feedstocks as one potential source for DME
Soybean feedstocks as one potential source for DME

In an Oberon Fuels “News & Events” blog post, meanwhile, Oberon explained, “DME, which has been proven as an energy source in many countries around the world, is a non-toxic, sulfur-free and clean-burning (generates no particulate matter) fuel that offers a clean alternative to diesel fuel for trucking operations.” At this stage of the game, North American production of DME could perhaps best be described as “small-scale.”

So, let’s think outside the box for a minute. What if North American DME production was increased multifold and the fuel was universally substituted for diesel for use in applications of railway, motor vehicle, agricultural pump, electrical backup generator, you name it, the benefit, of course, being less carbon emissions being released into the air? That day may be coming.

For now, “Göran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North American Sales and Marketing, says, ‘We believe DME has great potential in the North American market – and when produced from biomass, it can provide a 95 percent reduction in CO2 compared to diesel. Our field tests with Oberon Fuels will allow us to show the performance value of this fuel in heavy-duty trucking and prove our role as a leader in alternative fuel and driveline development,’” as brought to bear by Oberon Fuels in its June 7, 2013 press release: “Oberon Fuels Brings Production Units Online, Launching the First North American Fuel-grade DME Facilities.”

Meanwhile, in the Air Quality Matters blog post: “Diesel: It isn’t just for trucks, buses and locomotives anymore,” and also published today, covered were modern day diesel motor vehicles.

In that post I pointed out that today’s diesel cars are much cleaner-burning compared to predecessor models.

If all is successful in the North American DME trials and larger-scale production of the fuel is in the offing, I could definitely see a time when correspondingly far more widespread use is at hand and how this would translate into more diesel engines, regardless of application, benefiting from such use. The engines and air would not be the only beneficiaries. Quality of life would likely improve as a result as well.

Not only would that be something I could get really excited about, but indeed something to look forward to as well.

Image above: Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture

– Alan Kandel

This post was last revised on Jan. 9, 2020 @ 7:12 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.

2 thoughts on “Dimethyl ether as diesel fuel alternative could be going places”

  1. Further to DME as a transportatrion fuel. Army is currently in negotiations with Alternative Fuel Technology after the successful completion of SBIR Phase 2 R & D for a high pressure common rail that is suitable for JP-8 — it mitigated the wear issues and increased the pressure. JP-8 and DME have the same issue for diesels, low lubricity. AFT is a pioneer in DME R & D,

    Will be interesting to see if this translates not only to Army but to marine and agricultural concers that can now use DME over time… imagine ships switching out bunker fuel to DME or even JP-8/kerosene. As a guy who use to live in Long beach..cant come soon enough.

  2. Great to see the success of DME as a substitute for diesel. The is a great step towards the goal of having a green energy source.
    I strongly recommend it should be applicable globally.

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