Fueling Heavy-Duty Vehicles with Dimethyl Ether

The Sleepers Awake

For a long time there has been no mention from the U.S. Department of Energy on dimethyl ether (DME), but at last they are supporting development. The Ford Motor Company beat them to the punch, by announcing that a consortium of commercial and academic organization would develop a DME automobile. As well as this, the New York City Sanitation Commissioner gave an interview with the Financial Times where they spoke of a future where methane and carbon dioxide could be recycled to produce DME and power for over 6000 sanitation vehicles.

Following this rise in DME, reliance on Middle East fossil fuels is believed to fall. A message to OPEC, as Yamamoto said: "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

The DOE Accelerates Alternative Fuels in Heavy - Duty Vehicles

[From US DOE 11-Sep-15] In an effort to reduce U.S. reliance on gasoline, diesel and oil imports the U.S. Department of Energy today announced $11 million in funding to support development and demonstration of innovative alternative technologies for medium and heavy-duty vehicles. The funding opportunity includes two areas of interest:

  • Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicle Power Train Electrification focuses on research, development, and demonstration of electric-drive power train technologies for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that significantly reduce fuel consumption.
  • Heavy-Duty Vehicle Dual Fuel Fleet Demonstration seeks to demonstrate the performance and reliability of commercially-available dual fuel heavy-duty vehicles equipped with engines capable of operation using a mixture of diesel fuel and gaseous fuels—natural gas, propane- or natural gas-derived fuels such as dimethyl ether (DME) - and the associated emissions control systems.

The data produced by these activities will be analyzed by Energy Department National Laboratories, who will use it to foresee roadblocks in technology and direct future research. The Vehicle Technologies Office funds research and development for energy efficient and environmentally friendly vehicle technologies. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy accelerates development and deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and market-based solutions that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality.

Ford Leads Diesel Project that Could Run on Converted CO2

[From Ford 11-Sep-2015] The Ford Motor Company is heading a €3.5 million research project on the investigation of alternative fuels. These fuels could give consumers the power and performance of their modern combustion engines, alongside the environmental benefits of an electric vehicle.

Another project on alterative fuels is that co-funded by the German government. Over three years cars will be fitted to run on dimethyl ether, commonly used as a non-toxic propellant in aerosol spray gas.

DME can enhance fuel efficiency and reduce particulate emissions in the test cars, which are based on the Ford Mondeo. It can be produced either from fossil natural gas or bio gas, or a third more sophisticated method. This method is known as power-to-liquid and uses energy produced from renewable sources such as wind and solar, along with CO2 from the air to generate a fuel.

Alongside this there is a parallel project being run by RWTH Aachen University that is investigating various DME generation methods and how viable they are based on their conversion efficiency, estimated price of the fuel generated and aspects of infrastructure.

The CO2 produced by a car powered by DME from renewable sources could be comparable to the amount generated by a marathon runner covering the same distance – but with performance similar to a diesel powered vehicle. This is a project that could help place vehicles with a significantly reduced carbon dioxide and particulate emissions on the market at affordable costs.

Werner Willems, Ford of Europe

As it uses renewable energy, DME from power-to-liquid technology could offer much lower wheel-to-wheel emissions of about 3 g/km CO2. Similar to liquefied petroleum gas DME must be stored in a slightly pressurized tank. Engines using DME are expected be superior to those using petroleum derived fuels, having almost soot-free combustion; higher thermal efficiency and excellent cold start properties.

DME is safe, burns cleaner than conventional diesel, and most importantly is versatile. The energy generated from solar, wind and other renewable sources can be stored within the fuel itself, and this enables DME to be used across a range of applications.

Andreas Schamel, Ford’s director Global Power train Research & Advanced Engineering

New York City Commissioner on DME for the Sanitation Fleet

[From the FT, 10-Sep-15] New York Citys Department of Sanitation is the largest in the world, and Ms. Kathryn Garcia is it’s commissioner. She is the head of over 9,700 uniformed and civilian employees, that hand more the 3.2 m tons of refuse and recycles more than 600,000 tons of material each year.

To keep such a large operation running smoothly demands military-style precision:

There are clear chains of command and protocols for who goes on which truck and when.

Ms Garcia

A look around her office shows plenty of reminders of the job.

One wall is dedicated to a panoramic photograph of Fresh Kills, the former Staten Island landfill being turned into a park. The chairs in front of her desk are from Materials for the Arts, a center that takes furniture donations from the public and companies to reuse in non-profits and public schools.

While thinking about landfills and recycling, Ms Garcia also wants to make the department’s just over 6,000 vehicles greener, and on her desk lays a possible answer. “We’re constantly trying to figure out how to be the cleanest fleet.

We have very aggressive particulate filters, but what about the future?” she asks, pointing to a model of a dimethyl ether (DME) molecule, a clean gas whose sources include renewable materials such as organic waste and agricultural products. “This little molecule is very clean, but acts like a liquid fuel so it’s easier to pump,” Ms Garcia explains. The department has yet to harness it for its fleet, but “this is to remind me that we need to figure it out”.

Our Position is Diesel Power is at the Fork in the Road

The continued use of conventional diesel fuel presents many challenges. Diesel fuel degrades the environment through the emission of greenhouse gases and particulate matter, while fostering dependence on volatile Middle East oil reserves. Diesel has a shelf life, can gel in could weather, can get water logged and separates over time. Diesel fuel is poisonous, pollutes water and soil if leaked, requires layers of anti-pollution devices and uses 2 to 8 liters of purified, fresh water for every liter of diesel produced. Today, the compression engine is great power source with a problematic fuel.

Dimethyl Ether – Keep the Engine, Change the Fuel

The challenge is to find a fuel for compression engines that is environmentally friendly, stores easily and transported simply. DME can be readily synthesized from abundant natural gas and biomass feedstock using a number of well-established chemical processes. DME is benign, evaporates after a spill, burns smoke free with no sulfur and reduced nitrous oxide and generates 1 to 2 liters of water for each liter of fuel produced. Unlike compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquid natural gas (LNG), most importantly, DME is used in compression engines, which substantially impacts the potential applications of this fuel over LNG. CNG, Ethanol or Methanol. Finally, the path is clear for clean diesel power across the globe.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by ChemBioPower Inc.

For more information on this source, please visit ChemBioPower Inc.

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