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Volvo Trucks to Commercialize DME-Powered Vehicles for North America +DME Tutorial

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Volvo DME Powered Rig

SEE ALSO: Clean Energy from Dimethyl Ether (DME) [Originally Published Nov 9, 2009]

TEBORG, Sweden June 7, 2013; Volvo Trucks today became the first manufacturer to announce plans to commercialize dimethyl ether (DME)-powered heavy-duty commercial vehicles in North America. As the latest step in its comprehensive "Blue Power" alternative fuel strategy, Volvo revealed 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 exceptional performance qualities and energy efficiency of diesel, and burns clean without producing any soot. 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. 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 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.

Volvo's DME technology will be available in a Volvo D13 engine, the top-selling heavy-duty engine in the world, 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. 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 seven commercial vehicles powered by seven different CO2-neutral fuels, one of which was DME. The company demonstrated these vehicles in U.S. 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 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.

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 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, 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.

The Volvo Group is one of the world's leading manufacturers of trucks, buses, construction equipment and marine and industrial engines. The Group also provides complete solutions for financing and service. The Volvo Group, which employs about 115,000 people, has production facilities in 19 countries and sells its products in more than 190 markets. In 2012, the Volvo Group's sales amounted to $45 billion. The Volvo Group is a publicly-held company headquartered in Gothenburg, Sweden. Volvo shares are listed on OMX Nordic Exchange Stockholm and are traded OTC in the U.S.


What is DME? - Clean Fuel for Transportation

DME is one of the most promising alternative automotive fuel solutions among the various ultra clean, renewable, and low-carbon fuels under consideration worldwide. DME can be used as fuel in diesel engines, gasoline engines (30% DME/70% LPG), and gas turbines. Only modest modifications are required to convert a diesel engine to run on DME, and engine and vehicle manufacturers, including Nissan and Volvo, have developed heavy vehicles running on diesel engines fuelled with DME.

As an automotive fuel, when compared with petroleum-derived diesel, DME’s performance demonstrates a number of significant benefits:

  • Ultra low exhaust emissions
  • No particulate matter (PM); very low NOx; no SOx)
  • Low CO2 emissions
  • Low engine noise
  • High fuel economy
  • High well-to-wheel efficiency
  • Thermal efficiency equivalent to diesel engine performance
  • Ignition characteristics equivalent to diesel engine performance

The reduction or elimination of particulate emissions, also commonly known as “soot” or black smoke, is another important benefit. Diesel engines running on 100% DME have demonstrated smoke free combustion, while engines using a DME/diesel fuel blend have demonstrated significant reduction of soot.

A high cetane rating* of 55 – 60 (compared to about 45 for petroleum-derived diesel) and a boiling point of -25ºC provide fast fuel/air mixing, reduced ignition delay, and excellent cold starting properties – two additional key advantages for DME’s use as a fuel.