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DOE funding demonstration project to replace natural gas with solar energy for production of Oberon’s rDME fuel; Bullet Steam Accumulator

The US Department of Energy is funding a demonstration of Sunvapor’s solar steam and thermal battery technology to lower further the Carbon Intensity (CI) of the renewable dimethyl ether (DME) produced by Oberon Fuels at its Maverick Innovation Center in Brawley, California.


Oberon Fuels’ Maverick Innovation Center

The demonstration project will reduce the amount of natural gas currently used during production and replace it with zero-emission solar heat.

Made from renewably-sourced materials, Oberon’s rDME fuel is used by more than 450 companies seeking to reduce emissions from propane-powered vehicles including forklifts and trucks. The low-carbon fuel is blended into traditional fossil propane and stored, distributed and used in existing propane equipment and engines without modification.

Sunvapor’s solar thermal platform harnesses solar energy to produce steam at the high temperature and pressure required by the Oberon process. More important for this demonstration, however, is the inclusion of a first-of-a-kind solar thermal battery, called a Bullet Steam Accumulator (BSA) which will enable Oberon to run its process continuously—even after the sun has set. By reducing the use of natural gas, Oberon Fuels will further reduce the carbon intensity of the finished fuel.

Sunvapor says that the Bullet Steam Accumulator has a lower specific energy cost ($/kWh) than all other energy storage technologies capable of generating 100-150 psig steam. Sunvapor discovered, through Computational Fluid Dynamics, the design rules that achieve performance optimality for a ten-fold increase in capacity compared with the previous state-of-the-art.

Sunvapor has been successfully operating the country’s only industrial solar steam generating system for more than a year for a food processor in the California Central Valley. The project at Oberon extends the Sunvapor solar boiler technology platform by adding thermal energy storage.

The 24-hour runtime environment of industrial sites such as Oberon’s presents special challenges to solar steam solutions, which is why the addition of our Bullet Steam Accumulator will be such a key component of the demonstration. We look forward to showing a path towards zero-emissions industrial process heat without straining the electric grid, to help companies and industries decarbonize.

—Philip Gleckman, PhD, CEO at Sunvapor


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