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Volvo Trucks to bring DME-powered vehicles to North America

Volvo Trucks, Göteborg, Sweden, plans to commercialize dimethyl ether (DME)-powered heavy-duty commercial vehicles in North America. As the latest step in its “Blue Power” alternative fuel strategy, Volvo announced ongoing U.S. customer field testing of trucks powered by DME, and demonstrated the technology after an announcement at the California State Capitol.

DME mirrors the performance qualities and energy efficiency of diesel, and burns clean without producing any soot, according to the company. Converting natural gas to DME is an way to address many of the distribution, storage and fueling challenges otherwise presented by natural gas as a heavy truck fuel. Volvo announced plans to begin limited production in 2015 of DME-powered vehicles.

“With the addition of DME-powered vehicles to our previously announced CNG and LNG offering, Volvo’s Blue Power lineup 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.

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 line-up that already includes CNG-powered Volvo VNM and VNL model daycabs.

Volvo said it decided to invest in DME technology and introduce it to the North American market because of the 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. Like diesel, it requires no separate ignition mechanism. Unlike LNG, it does not require cryogenic temperatures; it is handled and stored like propane, with tank pressures of only 75 psi (vs. 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, according to Volvo Trucks.

DME is non-toxic, and is already used as an aerosol propellant in cosmetics and other household products. 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 percent carbon dioxide 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, Ph.D., 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 U.S. and in Europe, resulting in 650,000 on-highway miles.

Posted June 7, 2013


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