DME-Powered Trucks Edging Closer to the Road

The steel DME tank is lighter and cheaper than its natural gas cousins.

CONSHOHOCKEN, PA — The American Society for Testing and Material International (ASTM) has issued a standard specification for the diesel alternative in truck engines, dimethyl ether (DME), according to truckinginfo.

“Approval of an ASTM specification for DME marks an important milestone for DME’s introduction as a fuel, providing DME producers, engine manufacturers, infrastructure developers and others involved in the introduction of DME as a fuel with an important benchmark on which to base their work,” said the International DME Association.

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 said in 2013, when they announced their plans to begin production of DME-powered trucks.

Last year both Mack and Volvo Trucks announced plans to begin producing DME powered trucks for sale in the U.S. 

The specification, ASTM D7901, covers DME for use as a fuel in engines specifically designed or modified for DME, and for blending with liquefied petroleum gas.

Oberon Fuels, which began production of DME in the U.S. last year, initiated and led an ASTM task force focused on developing a specification for DME as a fuel. In addition to Oberon Fuels, the ASTM DME task force involved representatives from many international companies and organizations including Volvo, BP, Delphi, Marathon Petroleum, Petrobras, the National Propane Gas Association, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The Fuel

DME can be made from anything that contains methane – food, animal waste, wastewater and landfills, and natural gas. It’s non-toxic, too, and is already used in hairspray and other products, according to Oberton’s president, Rebecca Boudereaux.

What’s good about DME is that it doesn’t congeal or thicken in colder climates, like diesel does. 

In March of 2008, Volvo presented a study on environmentally friendly fuels and brought seven alternative fuels to Congress: biodiesel, methanol, ethanol, CNG, LNG, synthetic diesel and DME.

“DME tested the best out of these fuels,” said Göran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North American Sales and Marketing.

Volvo’s Ed Saxman, marketing product manager, Alternative Fuels, explained that they measured the diesel gallon equivalent of LNG, CNG and DME. In terms of diesel equivalent, DME and CNG both need twice the amount to match diesel.

“LNG only has half the energy of diesel. You want to pay for the energy you buy, not the amount of fuel,” said Saxman.

DME mirrors the performance qualities and energy efficiency of diesel, and burns clean without producing any soot, according to Volvo.

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