Oberon Fuels: Biofuels Digest’s 2015 5-Minute Guide

April 13, 2015 |

Oberon Fuels is launching DME (dimethyl ether) in North America as a clean-burning, alternative to diesel. Using various, domestic feedstocks such as food and green waste and natural gas, Oberon has developed a modular, small-scale process that cost-effectively converts a variety of methane

DME is a clean-burning, non-toxic fuel that can be derived from renewable sources. Its high cetane number and quiet combustion, as well as its inexpensive propane-like fueling system, make it an excellent, inexpensive diesel alternative.

Oberon has developed proprietary skid-mounted, small-scale production units that convert methane and carbon dioxide to DME from various feedstocks, such as biogas and natural gas. This small-scale process circumvents the financial, infrastructure, and permitting challenges that large-scale projects confront. Oberon units have the capacity to produce 3,000–10,000 gallons of DME per day to service regional fuel markets and are therefore ideal for the owner of a fleet of heavy-duty vehicles making closed-loop hauls.

The Oberon units cost-effectively convert inexpensive natural gas, which is abundant in North America, to DME, a higher-valued transportation fuel. The units’ modular design makes it easy to deploy to remote stranded-gas locations that are otherwise costly to access, and also to industrial operations where waste CO2 streams can be captured to increase output. Huge reserves of natural gas make efficient conversion to DME a natural next step toward promoting greater energy independence and environmental security for the United States. In addition, feedstocks—such as shale gas and biogas from animal, food, and agricultural waste—can be converted to DME and monetized using the Oberon process.

The Situation

Last September, Oberon Fuels announced that DME is now approved for use as vehicle fuel in the state of California. This latest approval builds on earlier approvals and ongoing work by other regulatory bodies, including the US Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board, and ASTM International, and will help accelerate commercial adoption of this low carbon fuel.

“The use of fuels like DME will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, improve air quality and lead to a positive impact on California and the environment,” said Kristin Macey, director of the Division of Measurement Standards at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which issued the latest approval of DME fuel.

“The State of California’s approval builds upon the growing body of certifications that demonstrate DME is a low carbon fuel that meets both industry standards for performance and environmental standards for compliance,” said Rebecca Boudreaux, Ph.D., president of Oberon Fuels. “These approvals are a key step in increasing confidence among distributors, engine manufacturers and fleet owners that DME is ready for commercial markets, which will benefit Oberon as we build out a global supply of DME fuel.”

The State of California’s legalization of DME for use as vehicle fuel is the latest milestone for the growing DME industry. In January 2015, the California Air Resources Board published their Multimedia Assessment Tier 1 report on DME, which evaluates publicly available data on the effect of DME on air, soil, and water.

Rankings

The 40 Hottest Smaller Companies in the Advanced Bioeconomy: #26, 2014-15

Top Past Milestones

In August 2014, the EPA approved biogas-based DME for inclusion under the Renewable Fuel Standard and made it eligible for Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) credits based on EPA findings that the fuel achieves a 68 percent reduction in greenhouse gases.

In February 2014, ASTM International, a globally recognized organization that develops technical standards, released a specification for DME as a fuel. ASTM D7901 provides guidance for fuel producers, engine and component suppliers, and infrastructure developers on DME purity, testing, safety, and handling.

In June 2013, Oberon Fuels has received a $500,000 grant from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to produce fuel-grade DME at its facilities in California. Working with its partners, Volvo Trucks in North America and Safeway, Oberon will provide DME produced from biogas for Safeway’s trucking operations. Oberon has developed a patented, skid-mounted, modular design for DME production. This small-scale process enables the development of regional fuel markets that can service local customers engaged in regional haul, initially bypassing the need for a national infrastructure. For the grant collaboration, Oberon plans to produce DME from such as animal, food, and agricultural waste.

Major Milestone Goals 

Commercial scale deployment

Business Model

Build, own and operate, and technology licensing.

Competitive Edge

Here’s the DME argument: there’s no carbon-carbon bond, meaning no soot when burned; it combusts in a diesel engine, it is not tied to the price of crude oil., there are multiple feedstocks (e.g. natgas, biogas), and it handles like propane.

Company website.

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