Southern California Gas Co. and Oberon Fuels, a San Diego based low-emission alternative fuels company, will team up to design and build the first commercial facility in the United States to produce Dimethyl Ether from natural gas for use as a transportation fuel.
The facility will be located in Southern California and produce the ultra-clean fuel, which can be used as an alternative to diesel and propane, as well as for a variety of non-transportation uses.
The planned demonstration facility will use Oberon's proprietary technology and process, which will mix natural gas with carbon dioxide to produce DME in small-scale, skid-mounted modular units that will produce 3,000 to 6,000 gallons of DME per day.
DME generates almost no particulate matter and produces ultra-low levels of smog-causing nitrogen oxides. It burns cleaner than diesel while providing improved engine performance, according to the companies. With handling characteristics similar to propane, DME offers the potential to provide an alternative fuel solution that is cost effective, environmentally friendly, and operationally easy to adopt.
The joint demonstration project is first targeting the "return-to-base" trucking segment.
Today, DME is most widely used an environmentally gas aerosol propellant in consumer products. Research on DME as an alternative fuel for diesel engines began in the 1990s, and worldwide production has increased dramatically over the last decade. Using DME primarily as a blendstock for propane gas, China has driven the growth in demand and prompted large plants to be built throughout Asia and the Middle East.
DME is also being used by Volvo in Europe. HDT Editor at Large Rolf Lockwood wrote about the fuel's potential here.