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Volvo Trucks to begin limited production of DME heavy-duty trucks in NA in 2015; customer trials; Oberon partnership

Volvo VNL w D13-DME 3
Volvo VNL D13 with DME. Click to enlarge.

At an event in Sacramento, California, Volvo Trucks announced that it will commercialize dimethyl ether (DME)-powered heavy-duty commercial vehicles in North America, with limited production beginning in 2015. Volvo also revealed ongoing customer field testing of DME trucks in the US (with Safeway and Martin Transportation), as well as its partnership in the customer trials with startup DME producer Oberon Fuels. Oberon Fuels is the first company to announce plans to commercialize DME fuel production in North America. (Earlier post.)

DME offers diesel-quality performance with a high cetane number and low auto-ignition temperature, but burns cleanly without producing any soot. It is non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, and can be made from a variety of sustainable domestic sources, as well as from North America’s abundant supply of natural gas. The carbon intensity of the DME will vary with the feedstock, but with the use of bio-gas (biomethane) from an anaerobic digester as input into the Oberon process, DME can provide up to a 95% CO2 reduction compared to diesel. Volvo has been testing Bio-DME in Sweden since 2009. (Earlier post.)

Volvo’s DME technology will be available in a Volvo D13 13-liter engine, 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 day-cabs. The company will also introduce its own proprietary LNG engine—North America’s first fully integrated natural gas solution—in VNL day-cabs and sleepers next year.

Volvo said it 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. DME’s 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.

Comparing packaging attributes for LNG, CNG and DME on-board storage. Source: Volvo Trucks. Click to enlarge.

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). On-board storage is much simpler and lighter than that required for LNG or CNG; instead of a double-wall stainless steel tank with cryogenics for LNG, or a carbon graphite tank for CNG, DME requires just a single-wall steel tank. It can safely be stored on-site for extended periods of time. It also performs exceedingly well in cold temperatures with no extra measures required.

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 and diesel
A team at Amoco led by Dr. Theo Fleisch began investigating the use of DME in diesel engines in the early 1990s as part of a larger investigation of the synthesis of liquid fuels from natural gas. (Dr. Fleisch is a member of Oberon Fuels’ Scientific Advisory Board.)
The Amoco scientists found that DME was a good diesel replacement, and at the 1995 SAE conference in Detroit, reported that preliminary engine test data for DME showed emission levels better than the California 1998 ULEV standards.
However, notes Dr. Rebecca Boudreaux, Oberon’s president, oil was at $16 per barrel back then. Now, she says, the landscape has changed with the high price of oil.

DME engine in 2015. Volvo is currently in development with the DME engine that will enter production in 2015. For now, noted Ed Saxman, Volvo Trucks’ Product Marketing Manager, Alternative Fuels, the engines in the customer fleet test trucks in the US are the same as those currently under test in Europe.

The base engine of the new DME engine will be identical to the D13 13-liter diesel. However, a new injection system is required; because DME has half the energy density of diesel, twice the volume of the fuel must be injected to offer comparable diesel performance. The requirement of the new injection system alone argues against a retrofit implementation of DME, Saxman said.

DME is injected as a liquid, but requires much lower pressure injection.

Additionally, because DME burns with no soot or particulates, no diesel particulate filter (DPF) is needed; no regeneration, active or passive, is needed; no seventh injector is needed. There is no need for Exhaust Gas Recirculation, EGR cooler, and EGR valve, Saxman said.

[Although others (Arcoumanis et al.) have suggested that NOx emissions from DME-fueled engines could meet future regulations with high exhaust gas recirculation in combination with a lean NOx trap.]

Nor is a Variable Geometry Turbocharger required on the new DME engine—a much simpler turbo can be used. Although the engine will initially be introduced with SCR for NOxreduction, there is the potential for removing that requirement down the road. In short, Saxman said, the 2015 DME engine will be simpler and lighter than its diesel equivalent, but meet all the emissions standards.

Initially, Volvo Trucks will use a 17:1 compression ratio with the DME engine—the same as with the diesel variant. The initial rating will be 425 hp (317 kW), with 1,750 lb-ft (2,373 N·m) of torque. This will be followed by a 500 hp (373 kW) rating with the same torque.

Selecting DME. Volvo Truck’s DME announcement comes in the context of many years of 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. (Earlier post.) The company demonstrated these vehicles in US operation in 2008, in conjunction with the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC).

The company then went on to evaluate the performance of the seven fuels—Biodiesel (B100); Methanol/Ethanol (Spark Ignition); Hydrogen + Biogas (Spark Ignition); CNG (Spark Ignition): LNG (Compression Ignition + pilot injection); Synthetic Diesel; and DME (Compression Ignition). Criteria in the evaluation were climate impact; energy efficiency; land use efficiency; fuel potential; vehicle adoption; fuel cost; and fuel infrastructure.

Rank-ordered, the scores (higher is better) were:

  • DME: 28.5
  • Methanol: 27.5
  • Synthetic diesel: 26.5
  • LNG: 23
  • CNG: 22.5
  • Hydrogen + biogas: 21
  • Biodiesel: 19
  • Ethanol: 17.5

Customer trials. Volvo Trucks in North America will partner with Safeway Inc., one of the largest food and drug retailers in North America, and Oberon Fuels to test heavy-duty commercial vehicles powered by dimethyl ether (DME) produced from biomass. The project received $500,000 in funding from California’s San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD) and will be the second customer field test conducted by Volvo Trucks in the US.

DME trucks in the US have already been in testing with Martin Transport, which operates a fleet of tank trucks providing transportation of petroleum products, LP gas, molten sulfur, sulfuric acid, paper mill liquids, chemicals, dry bulk, and numerous other bulk liquid commodities. Martin Transport is an element of Martin Resource Management, founded and run by Ruben Martin, who is now also an investor in Oberon Fuels.

Between the trials in Europe and the work with Martin, Volvo DME trucks have already logged more than 650,000 kilometers (404,000 miles) of operational testing.

Oberon’s process. Click to enlarge.

Oberon. Founded in 2011, Oberon Fuels has developed a patented, skid-mounted, modular design for DME production. The small-scale process is envisioned to enable the development of regional fuel markets that can service local customers engaged in regional haul, initially bypassing the need for a national infrastructure.

A full Oberon plant will consist of three stages: the production of syngas, its conversion to methanol, and the subsequent catalytic dehydration of methanol to DME.

For the $500,000 grant collaboration with Volvo Trucks and Safeway, Oberon plans eventually to produce DME from renewable feedstocks such as animal, food and agricultural waste, preventing methane from being released into the atmosphere, and converting the waste to a usable, clean-burning fuel.

The Oberon plant supported by the funding from the SJVAPCD will be located in Brawley, California, in the Imperial Valley. The primary source of biogas will be cow manure.

Nameplate capacity for the Brawley plant will be 4,500 gallons per day. Phase 1 of the Brawley project—which consists of the distillation tower to produce DME (the third stage)—is coming online this month. The plant will run for a few months to produce fuel for the Volvo Truck trials, said Dr. Rebecca Boudreaux, Oberon’s president, then shut down for the installation of the “front-end” elements of the Oberon process (syngas and methanol production). The plant will begin production again in 2014 with the full process: biogas to DME.

Oberon intends to offer two unit size options: the 4,500 gpd unit, and a larger 10,000 gpd unit. The 4,500 gpd unit will require 950 kcf/day (60% methane, 40% CO2) of biogas as input; the 10,000 gpd unit will require 2.1 Mcf/day biogas. The Oberon process can use biogas with CO2 content of up to 50%

While in theory biomass gasification could be used to produce syngas for use in the Oberon process, the ratio (i.e., CH4 to CO2) is not as optimal for Oberon’s technology as in biogas, Dr. Boudreaux said. Therefore, Oberon will need to rely on the presence of anaerobic digesters to produce biogas or landfill methane to produce renewable DME, or use natural gas.

Oberon envisions a regional buildout for its technology, with the plants essentially going to where the feedstock is, rather than the other way around as is currently the case. With this as a basis, Oberon foresees a hub-and-spoke model for distribution—i.e., regional production of DME, which will then be delivered in propane-style tankers to customer terminals.


  • US Patent Nº 8,378,159: Process and system for converting biogas to liquid fuels

    T.H. Fleisch, A. Basu, R.A. Sills (2012) Introduction and advancement of a new clean global fuel: The status of DME developments in China and beyond, Journal of Natural Gas Science and Engineering, Volume 9 Pages 94-107, doi: 10.1016/j.jngse.2012.05.012

  • Constantine Arcoumanis, Choongsik Bae, Roy Crookes, Eiji Kinoshita (2008) The potential of di-methyl ether (DME) as an alternative fuel for compression-ignition engines: A review, Fuel, Volume 87, Issue 7 Pages 1014-1030 doi: 10.1016/j.fuel.2007.06.007

  • T.H. Fleisch, A. Basu, M.J. Gradassi, J.G. Masin (1997) Dimethyl ether: A fuel for the 21st century, In: M. de Pontes, R.L. Espinoza, C.P. Nicolaides, J.H. Scholtz and M.S. Scurrell, Editor(s), Studies in Surface Science and Catalysis, Elsevier, Volume 107, Pages 117-125, doi: 10.1016/S0167-2991(97)80323-0


Zon Dee

This is a very good decision from Volvo as this will increase the company revenue generation greatly. My advice to the company is that they should speed up this decision so that the production can begin quickly because North America is a very good market for automakers as well as their suppliers and that is why we see company like Schaeffler investing and expanding in the region. Last year, Schaeffler realized 18% revenue growth in the region.


DME is also popular in China:

the Chinese are mainly using coal to produce it, so how green DME is varies, and of course the US could use NG or coal, but it at least provides the option of using biogas etc.


"skid-mounted, modular design for DME production... initially bypassing the need for a national infrastructure."

Smart, make the fuel at point of use. If supermarkets would use this for delivery from warehouse to stores, we could clean the air and reduce oil imports.

Nick Lyons

This makes so much more sense than 'hydrogen economy' pipe dreams. Ultimately, synthesize DME, other liquid fuels using heat and power from molten salt reactors. We can have a low-carbon future.


The DME fuel system is cheaper, but the DME production from raw material is far more expensive and lossy.  Given the non-renewability of natural gas and the scarcity of biogas and other drop-in equivalents, efficiency ought to rank higher on our list of priorities.


As far as I remember DME production from black liquer faild due to economical reasons.
Would be good to know what could be energy efficiency CH4 convrting into DME and then incinerating in comparison CH4 combusting directly.


The Indian company that bought Domsjo pulp and paper plant last year decided that they would not build a full scale DME plant from black liquor due to the risk in investing, demand for biofuels and taxation of these. The pilot plant has been taken over by the Lulea Technical University.


You can make DME from NG at 70% efficiency. Considering that it does not have to be compressed to 3600 psi for CNG nor chilled for LNG, it might make sense.

Oberon can install an NG to DME unit right at the yard. Walmart and grocery stores can fill at the warehouse to save a bundle. Less imported oil is a good thing and fewer particulates is a real health bonus.


Criteria in the evaluation were climate impact; energy efficiency; land use efficiency; fuel potential; vehicle adoption; fuel cost; and fuel infrastructure.

I wonder how much "weight" was asigned to each of these criteria? Obviously the importance of each will be different in different applications and to different markets.


Awesome..! Where can I buy a drum and how much?


Biomass + renewable H2 --> syngas --> DME
If there is enough renewable H2, you can make DME with 100% carbon efficiency.
If not, you have simply carbon-neutral DME at lower carbon-efficiency.

As long as there are no H2-fuelcell cars, you can use the renewable H2 via DME.
Whenever demand of H2 starts to rise, the production capacity will be ready.
Whenever electric cars need green electrons, the production capacity will be ready.
Any temporal overproduction of electrons (likely with nuclear/solar/wind) can be absorbed for H2-production.

This is a nice evolution from conventional fuels --> biofuels -> upgraded biofuels -> H2 fuelcells & Electric.

The interchangability of output from primary renewable energy sources may ease implementation and evolution to the most suitable choice at any time.
The market will decide. Small incentives (CO2-tax invested in pilot projects) may fasten the evolution.



It looks much better than producing hydrogen from NG.


Which raw materials H2 could be used for DME generation and in what proportion? It could be good idea using wind power solely for hydrogen generation without conecting to the grid. Huge part of investment could be avoided. Then generate hydrogen and mixing with other primary energy source like CH4 and synthesizing DME. Biomass usage is complicated and costly but could be considerd as well.
It just weekend speculation. Usualy I do not posting without knowing something. Would be nice to know much more.
Forget fuel cells and hydrogen use for LDV's. It does make any sense and will never happen especialy after Tesla development. 100% sure. But for trucks DME only reasonable alternative to NG especially for the markets with high NG price i.e. Europe and Asia.


To make synthetic gasoline, you need more carbon, Shell Pearl uses the CO2 from the NG wells, pipeline grade NG has to remove the CO2.

This is why I advocate sequestering CO2 from fossil fuel sources like coal fired power plants. Pipe it to old NG wells and store it to make fuels.

The story here is making fuels where you need them. You pipe NG all over now, so put the synthesizers where you need fuel, that just makes sense.


Almost everywhere there is a lot of organic material : we can start with any municipal waste, manure, sludge, ...
Anything with carbon can be converted to syngas + CO2. If renewable H2 (from water + windpower) is added (with the right catalyst) , the CO2 is converted to CO and water. Ultimately every carbon atom in the waste can be converted to syngas and further to plastics, methanol, DME,...

Depending on the primary carbon source, the proportion of additional H2 varies. If it is mainly wood (mostly cellulose), one additional H2 for every carbon is needed. If citywaste with a lot of plastic, much less is needed...

We dont only need renewable fuels. Even if all transport is electric, we need a lot of plastics and carbon materials (carbon fiber would be a great alternative for most metal applications, such as for cars, planes and reinforced concrete)


NG to fuels is a good place to start. Over time NG and biomass can provide what you need. Beyond that biomass with renewable hydrogen.

Carbon is essential to liquid hydrocarbon fuels, I would rather reform those on board and use a high temperature PEM fuel cell, but using DME in a diesel engine is cleaner than diesel fuel.

Kit P

“DME is also popular in China: ”

Really! Did you even bother to read the paper you linked?

Gasoline is popular in China. Just like the US. One of the problem with getting old is that the response to innovative ideas is not again.

I am sure that methanol will continue to be an important feedstock for chemicals. Countries with stranded NG will make it like they also make ammonia.

When China is mentioned with praise, I look to see how corrupt central planning will screw things up just as in the USSR. Just when China was no longer able to meet their needs and had to start importing coal, they went on a massive building of methanol. China now leads the world in methanol production capacity and has a huge over capacity to produce methanol.

“Volvo Trucks in North America will partner with Safeway Inc ”

This is just classic California green washing. Not going to happen on any scale. Gasoline and diesel will continue to be the fuel of choice.


Yeah, I read the paper, which is more than you usually do to referenced sources.
What exactly is your point?

I imagined that anyone who is not terminally dumb would realise that of course petrol and diesel remain the main transport fuels in China.

I was pointing out to those capable of understanding the issues at all that the pathway to DME is one that China favours and has built facilities for.

Here is an outline in more detail for those capable of actually following an argument:

'Dimethyl Ether (DME) is a clean alternative fuel that is coal based. China plans to lead the world in the clean energy race by creating the largest dimethyl ether project in order to reduce oil consumption. The country's high population faces oil shortages and is developing methods for substitution. [1] In comparison to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and diesel, DME is both economical and better for the environment because of its lower smoke emission rates. China's goal is to fulfill the country's growing demand of alternative fuel and rely less on oil imports by using this organic chemical. [1]
Attractiveness of DME

The biodegradable fuel, which is both non-carcinogenic and non-corrosive, is ideal for everyday applications. Although China is focusing on using the coal-based product as a fuel substitute for LPG, dimethyl ether also serves as an aerosol spray propellant and may be applied to domestic use for heating and cooking. DME's purity rate of 99.9% makes it the better environmental choice. Unlike the majority of fossil fuels that harm the environment, dimethyl ether has no impact on climate because it does not emit sulfur when burned. [2] Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which causes depletion of the ozone layer may also be replaced by this coal-based alternative because DMEs do not damage the ozone layer. [2,3] DME's low carbon footprint and high energy efficiency are most appealing to a country like China where energy usage is increasing. China Energy Limited is the biggest Chinese producer of dimethyl ether. The company uses liquid phase dehydration technology to produce DME. [4] The company sells its product to LPG distributors who blend the DME in the gas and the output is a product with improved combustion. This company also produces methanol, which is used entirely as a feedstock for the production of DME. [1] However, China's use of methanol is controversial because methanol production increases CO2 emissions. [4]

Currently, China plans to increase DME capacity by adding more DME plants, such as the China Energy Limited company, throughout the region. By promoting the benefits of dimethyl ether, China has built an industry where DME serves as a readily available substitute for conventional diesel and petroleum based fuel. [4]'


A shame Mike has not booted Kit LONG ago.


I am not in the habit of asserting that people have commercial interests in providing misinformation, since it is clearly something that we do not know, nor does Kit's repeated defence of fossil fuel interests show any sign of sufficient intelligence that he would be worth hiring.

It is however impossible to understand the way in which he simply disregards scientific papers by the likes of the American Medical Association, and simply repeatedly claims that fossil fuel air pollution is now not damaging in the US, whilst of course being utterly incapable of providing any respectable references to that effect, as it ain't so.

The man is either utterly dumb, or speaking out of his own financial interest.

Either way this is not debate, but simply trolling which adds nothing but annoyance to the site.

Kit P

“What exactly is your point? ”

My point is you did not do a very good of analyzing technical papers. I would also caution people from drawing a conclusion about China from one paper written by people at Duke University.


If the DME synthesis is by dehydration of methanol (a highly exothermic reaction), it is more efficient to use DME as the ignition fuel and carbureted methanol as the main fuel.  The volumetric efficiency of the engine will also be increased due to the charge-cooling effect of methanol, allowing a smaller, lighter and less expensive engine.


If we're going with "DME as the ignition fuel and carbureted methanol as the main fuel" for heavy trucks we should also go with methanol and spark-plugs (or methanol FCVs) for cars & other light vehicles.

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