The Dawn of Dimethyl Ether in Transportation?

Volvo Trucks has announced its intentions to initiate the commercialization of technology that will allow fleet vehicles to use dimethyl ether (DME) as an alternative fuel in traditional diesel applications.

To prepare for the North American rollout of the technology, which is pegged for 2015, Volvo Trucks is partnering with Safeway Inc. and Oberon Fuels on a pilot-scale project to test the use of DME in regular fleet operations.

Safeway, one of the largest grocery chains in the U.S., will run a pair of Volvo VNL heavy-duty trucks on DME, using the Volvo D13 engine. These trucks will operate in Safeway's footprint in Calfornia's San Joaquin Valley.

For its part, Oberon will supply the fuel. The company has developed small-scale DME production equipment that can draw from a variety of feedstocks, including natural gas. Biogases from animal, food and agricultural waste can also be converted to DME.

Oberon is using a $500,000 grant from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to support DME production at a facility in Brawley, Calif. The initial units that come online will produce 4,500 gallons of DME per day, with additional units ramping up to 10,000 gallons per day.

‘We believe the fuel shows great potential for the North American market, and when produced from biomass, it can provide a 95 percent reduction in CO2 compared to diesel,’ says Goran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North American Sales & Marketing.

Volvo says it had been testing DME-powered trucks prior to the announcement. DME will join Volvo's other alt-fuel offerings, such as compressed natural gas VNM and VNL daycabs and the soon-to-be-released D13 liquefied natural gas engine.

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