Oberon Fuels, Ford and FVV partner to build, fuel, and test the world’s first production passenger car powered by DME

September 16, 2015 |

2015 Ford Mondeo

In California, Oberon Fuels. Ford Motor Company, and FVV have partnered on a 3-year, €3.5M project to research, analyze and test the potential of dimethyl ether and OME fuel in passenger cars and heavy-duty truck engines, and ultimately build the world’s first production passenger car powered by DME for on-road testing.

New car based on the Ford Mondeo

The project will investigate the use of DME and OME as diesel replacements in passenger cars and heavy-duty vehicle engines, respectively. Technical preparations and combustion engine development will span the first two years of the project with the third year focused on building demonstrator cars based on the Ford Mondeo.

More about DME and Oberon’s contribution

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 diesel alternative for both passenger cars and heavy-duty vehicles. DME-powered engines are expected to benefit from almost soot-free combustion, higher thermal efficiency and excellent cold start properties.

Oberon Fuels will supply DME for the project from its small-scale pilot plant in Brawley, California, which has a nameplate capacity of 4,500 gallons (~17,000 liters) of DME per day.  In 2013, this pilot plant produced the first fuel-grade DME in North America, which is currently being used by Volvo Trucks, a division of The Volvo Group, in its commercial demonstrations of DME-powered, heavy-duty trucks.

The Oberon Fuels Backstory: Dimethyl ether as a new diesel alternative fuel

The Digest’s 2015 8-Slide Guide to Oberon Fuels
Oberon Fuels: Biofuels Digest’s 2015 5-Minute Guide

Why DME matters now

DME and OME are C1 fuels — the simplest out there, with just the one carbon molecule. The world is awash in methane, which is what these fuels are primarily made from, or syngas produced from heating biomass until it breaks into pure carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

Here’s the environmental imperative: C1 fuels have no C-C bonds and produce minimal soot during combustion.

The commercial opportunity? Maus and Jabo note that “fuel costs for the DME engine were around 31% lower than diesel mode. Volvo/Mack plan to launch the series production of DME trucks in the US in January 2015.”

Meanwhile, diesel generates around 30% more mileage than comparable gasoline-powered cars — put the two together and you have a powerful recipe for delivering value to a custoemr while making major strides toward matching stringent fuel economy standards that the US is moving towards.

OME fuel? Maus and Jacob observe that: “OMEs can be mixed with diesel fuel in any ratio and generally have high cetane numbers, good material compatibility, excellent low-temperature performance, high density and are toxicologically unproblematic.”

What you can make DME fuel from

Food waste, syngas produced from heating biomass, stranded methane. Lots of attractive opportunites to acquire the raw materials cheaply for a valuable fuel.

Collaboration partners

In this international collaboration, Oberon will work with Ford, RWTH Aachen University, the Technical University of Munich, FVV, TUEV, DENSO, and IAV Automotive Engineering. Through the FVV, the leading forum for joint research projects on engine technology, all automotive manufacturers will gain access to the results and findings of the project, further building the market for DME as a diesel alternative. This project is partly funded by the German Ministry of Economy (BMWi).

FVV is a worldwide research network of 170 international member companies across the engine supply chain, including researchers, engine manufacturers, component suppliers, and fuel providers. FVV has become the leading forum for pre-competitive joint research projects, for the exchange of knowledge between industry and science, and for training junior researchers for work in the industry.

Stakeholder reaction

“We must continue to find ways to meet the growing global demand for liquid transportation fuels with lower-carbon fuels and more efficient, cleaner burning engines if we are to ensure the long term sustainability of our planet,” said Ralf Thee, project manager with FVV. “This is our most ambitious project yet, and we are pleased to be working with partners who share our commitment to innovation.”

“Ford is committed to helping develop the market for alternative fuels, and DME has exciting characteristics,” said Werner Willems, Ph.D., a technical specialist for powertrain combustion systems with Ford of Europe, and project leader for this initiative. “Not only does DME offer the efficiency and torque desired in a diesel engine, but it can be made from renewable waste streams and reduce the long-term cost of ownership, all of which are important to our customers.”

“By bringing together numerous stakeholders up and down the supply chain, we will be able to accelerate the process of bringing a new, sustainable fuel to a wide range of vehicles,” said Rebecca Boudreaux, Ph.D., president of Oberon Fuels. “By converting waste streams into clean-burning DME fuel, we can address global emissions as well as create new economic opportunities through more distributed fuel production and consumption. FVV’s and Ford’s leadership in this project are recognized and appreciated by all.”

More on the story.

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