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China to Support Development of Dimethyl Ether as Diesel Alternative

China’s first dimethyl ether bus, made by Shanghai Jiaotong University.

Xinhua. The Chinese government will support the development of dimethyl ether (DME), a gas derived from coal, as a possible alternative to diesel. A circular from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said standards for the use of DME as a civil fuel were being drawn up.

DME is an LPG-like synthetic fuel that is produced through gasification of coal or various renewable substances. The synthetic gas is then catalyzed to produce DME. A gas under normal pressure and temperature, DME can be compressed into a liquid and used as an alternative to diesel. Its low emissions make it relatively environmentally friendly.

The circular form the NDRC said that DME was expected to become a major fuel and was suitable for China’s energy structure. DME-fueled vehicles have been developed by Shanghai Jiaotong University and Xi’an Jiaotong University as well as in Japan and the European Union.

The Xinhua-run China Securities Journal reported on Wednesday that Shanghai Municipality planned to open the first DME-fueled bus line this year and operate 1,000 such vehicles before the World Expo in 2010. (Earlier post.)

The China Securities Journal said China’s estimated annual DME output from planned refineries was 500,000 tons. Water resources and capital were the main restrictive factors as production of one ton of DME would use as much as three tons of water.

The NDRC suggested at a meeting in June that policies for the development of DME and establishment of industrial standards be accelerated.

In December 2005, Japan’s Toyo Engineering announced that it will design and build China’s first major coal-to-dimethyl ether (DME) plant with China’s Ningxia Coal Group in northwestern China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. (Earlier post.)

Physical properties and combustion characteristics of DME
Formula CH3OCH3 C3H8 CH4
Boiling point (ºC) -25.1 -42.0 -161.5 180–370
Liquid density (g/cm3 @20ºC) 0.67 0.49 0.42 0.84
Liquid viscosity (kg/ms @25ºC) 0.12–0.15 0.2 2–4
Specific gravity of gas (vs. air) 1.59 1.52 0.55
Vapor pressure (MPa @25ºC) 0.61 0.93
Explosion limit (%) 3.4–17 2.1–9.4 5–15 0.6–6.5
Cetane number 55–60 5 0 40–55
Net calorific value (MJ/Nm3) 59.3 91.0 35.9
Net calorific value (MJ/kg) 28.8 46.3 49.0 42.7


Sid Hoffman

What they fail to mention is the well-to-wheels output of CO2 from DME is far higher than traditional diesel fuel from petroleum thanks to all the CO2 generated just to convert from coal to DME in the first place. From a GHG perspective, it's not a very attractive option.


It takes 3 tons of water to make 1 ton of DME. This sounds like a bad idea.

Paul Dietz

It takes 3 tons of water to make 1 ton of DME. This sounds like a bad idea.

This level of water consumption is not a big issue. The water used to cool the plant would be many times this, unless dry cooling (direct transfer of heat to air from heat exchanger coils) was used, as is done on a few coal fired powerplants in Wyoming.

Rafael Seidl

You can make DME from biological sources, too, but that's more expensive. The Swedes have researched this option in the context of recycling the black liquor produced during paper production.

Chemically, each molecule of CH3-O-CH3 requires the production of two molecules of CH3OH which are then dehydrated. Theoretically, just four molecules of H20 (molecular weight 4*18) are used to produce one molecule of DME (molecular weight 46), a ratio of 1.56 : 1. If the actual consumption of water is twice as high, then a large amount of CO, CO2 and H20 vapor must be produced along with the DME due to inefficiecies in the technology.


I understand DME has only half the energy density of regular diesel which doesn't need pressure tanks. Low energy density, high water requirement, high CO2 by-product. They play cricket not baseball around here but I'd always heard it was three strikes and you're out.


Do not be silly. One glass of orange juice requires 1000 glasses of water to produce. And it is OK, because water could not be consumed, it only could be used, and with proper wastewater treatment it returns to human use and environment for further use. Some in-land rivers run-offs are used 20+ times: for urban water supply, then sewage are treated, returned to the river stream, have natural biological polishing for 50 kilometers, and is sucked for urban consumption once again, etc, etc,.
Inherent separation of carbon atoms in ethers by oxygen atom assures that no carbon soot is formed during combustion. For diesel engines DME injection is tricky one, but this hurdles are already overcome by couple of Japanese manufacturers. It is unbelievably clean, fuel could be produced from variety of stock, notably NG, and in fact is a dream of diesel engine future.

Paul Dietz

And it is OK, because water could not be consumed, it only could be used, and with proper wastewater treatment it returns to human use and environment for further use.

Some water used for cooling, however, will evaporate, and not be available for reuse(*). For powerplants (or large synfuel plants requiring cooling, as a DME plant would) in dry areas, like Wyoming, this could be significant. The solution would be to use dry cooling systems, which act like car radiators to directly transfer heat to air without evaporation.

(*) Yes, the water will eventually return as rain somewhere, but mostly not locally.

Cheryl Ho

China is already most advanced in commercial use of DME as a mixture with LPG. China is mainly interested in DME production from their own coal resources as national policy. South Korea is also interested in DME. As KOGAS is predominant in handling gas in South Korea , MOU for market study in South Korea has been signed between TOTAL and KOGAS quite recently. Their interest of DME is for LPG market as well as fuel for diesel trucks.

If you would like to know more on the latest DME developments, join us at upcoming North Asia DME / Methanol conference in Beijing, 27-28 June 2007, St Regis Hotel. The conference covers key areas which include:

DME productivity can be much higher especially if
country energy policies makes an effort comparable to
that invested in increasing supply.
National Development Reform Commission NDRC
Ministry of Energy for Mongolia

Production of DME/ Methanol through biomass
gasification could potentially be commercialized
Shandong University completed Pilot plant in Jinan and
will be sharing their experience.

Advances in conversion technologies are readily
available and offer exciting potential of DME as a
chemical feedstock
By: Kogas, Lurgi and Haldor Topsoe

Available project finance supports the investments
that DME/ Methanol can play a large energy supply role
By: International Finance Corporation

For more information:


Information on DME please

Jim Blumberg

I would like to know which companies would be the best to invest in?

Thank You



Please send me information on the companies that would be good to review for investment purposes.

Thank you,


You might want to look at China Energy Limited, which is also listed in Singapore. Their DME prodution capacity is 600,000 mtpa & methanol 250,000 mtpa (it will be 750,000 mtpa soon). They claimed to be largest in China.
Net profit & free cash flow (based on my own estimate)increased substantially. They received reduced-tax incentive from PRC government. But had some tranparency problem before & also problem with approval process (payment made without board of directors' approval). The problem has been addressed and changes promised. No other irregularities found by Pricewaterhousecooper.
Leverage ratio is very low (below 2), ROA, ROE & net margin were fantastic. But outstanding shares increased by 47% in one year, to raise capital for expansion. The acquisition for expansion was healthy, in my point of view, because it's not a big merger that may damage the balance sheet.
By the way, I'm not working for China Energy.


what are the technologies used on DME production?

Account Deleted

Dear All
I am strongly interested in study of DME from methanol dehydration process but still not know exactly what is the current market price in Asia? and how much USD approximate Plant price for 1000 metric ton feed methanol? Thank you for your kind information
Best regards
Sumakun Sutardji

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