Volvo Trucks has staked out a leadership role in the commercialization of dimethyl ether (DME)-powered heavy-duty commercial vehicles in North America. Volvo announced plans to begin limited production of DME-powered vehicles in 2015.
As the latest step in its comprehensive "Blue Power" alternative fuel strategy, Volvo revealed ongoing US customer field testing of trucks powered by DME, and demonstrated the technology after an announcement June 6 at the California State Capitol in Sacramento.
DME mirrors the exceptional performance qualities and energy efficiency of diesel, and burns cleanly without producing any soot. It can be made from a variety of sustainable domestic sources, as well as from North America's abundant supply of natural gas, and therefore has the potential to significantly reduce dependency on foreign energy sources. Converting natural gas to DME is an innovative way to address many of the distribution, storage and fueling challenges otherwise presented by natural gas as a heavy truck fuel.
"With the addition of DME-powered vehicles to our previously announced CNG (compressed natural gas) and LNG (liquefied natural gas) offering, Volvo's Blue Power line-up will offer the industry's most comprehensive approach to the developing North American alternative fuel market," said Göran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North American Sales and Marketing.
Nyberg was joined at the California state capitol by Cliff Rechtschaffen, Governor Jerry Brown's senior energy advisor, and by executives from Oberon Fuels, the first company to announce plans to commercialize DME fuel production in North America.
"It's exciting to have a global leader like Volvo Trucks partnering with California companies to develop innovative technology in the Golden State," said Kish Rajan, director of the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). "The State of California continues to attract the most dynamic companies in the world and GO-Biz looks forward to helping Volvo and Oberon maximize the benefits of DME as a commercial transportation fuel."
Volvo's DME technology will be available in a Volvo D13 engine, and the company's I-Shift automated manual transmission will be standard on DME-powered trucks. DME-powered vehicles will join a lineup that already includes CNG-powered Volvo VNM and VNL model daycabs. The company will also introduce its own proprietary LNG engine--North America's first fully integrated natural gas solution--in VNL daycabs and sleepers next year.
The DME announcement is the latest example of Volvo's ongoing commitment to leadership in alternative fuel and driveline development. In 2007, Volvo showcased in Brussels, Belgium, seven commercial vehicles powered by seven different CO2-neutral fuels, one of which was DME. The company demonstrated these vehicles in US operation in 2008, in conjunction with the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC).
Volvo decided to invest in DME technology and introduce it to the North American market because of the numerous benefits DME offers as a heavy-truck fuel. Its high cetane number delivers performance and efficiency comparable to diesel, and it packages densely enough on a truck to support long range transports, or to allow room for vocational equipment on the frame. It is an excellent compression ignition fuel which, like diesel, requires no separate ignition mechanism. Unlike LNG, it does not require cryogenic storage temperatures. DME is handled and stored like propane, with tank pressures of only 75 psi (versus 3,600 psi for CNG). It can safely be stored on-site.
Because DME produces no soot, no diesel particulate filter (DPF) is necessary. In addition to the weight savings from the removal of the DPF, DME tanks are considerably lighter than comparable CNG or LNG tanks and considerably less complex.
DME is non-toxic, and is already used as an aerosol propellant in cosmetics and other household products, according to Volvo officials. It can be made from a variety of sustainable feedstocks, including biogas from food and animal waste, wastewater treatment facilities, and landfills. When produced from biomass or biogas, DME can provide up to a 95% CO2 reduction compared to diesel.
Oberon Fuels has developed new skid-mounted, small-scale production units that can cost-effectively convert biogas and natural gas into DME. The first of Oberon's innovative production units will go online in June in California's Imperial Valley region.
"Our small-scale process enables the utilization of regional feedstocks to produce DME," said Rebecca Boudreaux, PhD and president of Oberon Fuels. "Cost-effective, regional fuel production addresses the distribution issue, and offers the potential to bypass the need for a national fueling infrastructure, while reducing the carbon footprint associated with transporting the feedstock and the fuel produced."
Volvo has conducted extensive customer field tests of the technology in real-world applications, both in the United States and in Europe, resulting in 650,000 on-highway miles.
"We are proud to be a leader in providing alternative transportation solutions to the market," Nyberg said. "It is clear that DME technology shows great potential for North America, and allows Volvo to further its commitment to both our customers and the environment."