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Los Alamos and Oberon Fuels receive DOE funding to produce renewable hydrogen from renewable DME (rDME)

A public-private partnership between Los Alamos National Laboratory and Southern California-based Oberon Fuels has secured funding from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to scale-up steam reforming technology to produce renewable hydrogen (rH2) from renewable dimethyl ether (rDME)—a novel pathway for reducing the carbon content of the global hydrogen supply.

The effort is funded by DOE’s Technology Commercialization Fund, which supports mature, promising energy technologies with the potential for high impact and is also part of DOE’s “H2@Scale” initiative to accelerate development of a hydrogen economy by funding advanced-technology research, development and demonstration (RD&D) with industrial partners.

DME is a hydrogen-rich molecule that can be produced from waste and/or renewable resources using Oberon’s modular production technology. Because DME handles like propane/liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), it requires minimal modifications to the existing global LPG distribution network and leverages the expertise of its existing workforce. This project will produce the final step—technology that can convert rDME into rH2 fuel at the point of use.


Our novel approach to generating hydrogen flips the current model on its head. We are producing a hydrogen-rich molecule, moving it using existing, low-cost infrastructure, and converting it to hydrogen fuel on demand.

—Rebecca Boudreaux, Ph.D., President and CEO of Oberon Fuels

This project builds on a previous bench-top demonstration of a DME steam reforming process conducted by researchers at the Laboratory, which produced 0.018 kg of hydrogen per day. The goal is to boost production to 25 kg per day—a greater than 1,300-fold increase in hydrogen production capacity.

The modeling and experimental outcomes of this project will be used as the foundational underpinnings to scale the process further from 25 to 500 kg of renewable hydrogen per day, which exceeds what an average hydrogen filling station currently uses per-day for light-duty vehicles.

Based on the guidelines for alternative fuels, the DOE requirements for hydrogen carriers, our own thermodynamics analyses, and our bench-scale proof-of-concept validation, we believe DME is ideally suited for the H2@Scale effort.

—Troy A. Semelsberger, Ph.D., a Technical Staff Member at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Earlier this month, Oberon began commercial production of the first renewable DME in the US at its facility in Brawley, Calif., using waste methanol from the pulp and paper industry. Other potential feedstocks include: biogas from dairy waste, food wastes, agricultural waste, as well as excess electricity and CO2.

The team at Los Alamos National Laboratory has already shown the advantages of DME-to-hydrogen reforming including lower reaction temperatures, which can reduce the operating costs and the system footprint. We cannot wait to build on this strong foundation to show that rDME can be a pathway to help decarbonize the transportation sector.

—Elliot Hicks, Chief Operating and Technology Officer and an Oberon Fuels co-founder


  • Troy A. Semelsberger, Kevin C. Ott, Rodney L. Borup, Howard L. Greene (2006) “Generating hydrogen-rich fuel-cell feeds from dimethyl ether (DME) using Cu/Zn supported on various solid-acid substrates,” Applied Catalysis A: General, Volume 309, Issue 2, Pages 210-223 doi: 10.1016/j.apcata.2006.05.009.



That is the most ridiculous thing I heard this year


I dunno, it makes more sense than organic hydrogen carriers.  One molecule of DME can be steam-reformed to 4 molecules of H2 and 2 molecules of CO2.

The real question is if it can scale.  We know electrics can.  I suspect that this scheme cannot, so it'll be limited to niche applications.

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