AFP. French oil company Total is working with a consortium of nine Japanese companies on a $250-million dimethyl ether (DME) pilot project with a goal of volume production by 2010.
DME is an LPG (liquefied petroleum gas)-like synthetic fuel that is produced through gasification of various renewable substances or fossil fuels. The synthetic gas is then catalyzed to produce DME.
DME is a gas that becomes a liquid under low pressure (i.e., like LPG). It has excellent characteristics as a compression ignition fuel; the primary work that needs to be done is on the fuel-injection system because of the different handling characteristics of the gas.
It could in time replace diesel and LPG. It doesn’t need a catalytic exhaust pipe and is probably cheaper than conventional fuels.—Hubert de Mestier, Total’s Northeast Asia chief representative
The Japanese consortium includes JFE Holdings, Idemitsu Kosan, Nippon Sanso, Toyota Tsusho, LNG Japan, Hitachi, Marubeni, Inpex and Japex (a daughter company of former Japan National Oil Corporation).
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is providing up to 65% of the cost, with the partners sharing the rest. The ministry has also provided separate subsidies to develop particular parts of the project such as turbines and engines.
Although the production pilot plant is on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, Total will likely build its first commercial plant with an output target of 6,000 tonnes per day in Qatar (i.e., close to a large supply of natural gas feedstock).
Total calculates that a minimum of 3,000 to 6,000 tonnes a day must be produced to make DME profitable.
The liquefication of natural gas is an extremely capital-intensive activity which can only be justified for major fields. One of the issues of the cooperation between Total and its Japanese partners is how to free itself from this size constraint to get liquid hydrocarbons from smaller gasfields.—Thierry Desmarest, Total CEO
Last fall Japan began a series of DME road trials evaluating the durability and practicability of DME trucks when they run long distances on public roads. The partners in that trial are CO-OP EV, Mitsubishi Gas Chemical, Itochu, Itochu Enex, JFE Holdings, Fukuyama Transporting, Ono Sokki, and Iwatani International—JFE also being in the production pilot above. (Earlier post.)