Volvo just told the world about its LNG engine coming in 2014 at a recent press gathering in Miami Beach and discussed the future of DME fuel - that's dimethyl ether - in North America.
Volvo VNL natural-gas-powered daycab.
Volvo VNL natural-gas-powered daycab.

The Swedes have been talking about DME for several years now and I've written about it many times, but the subject hasn't arisen in the North American context until now. Since it can be produced from either natural gas or any number of biomass sources, I think it's bound to stay in the news. Volvo seems firm in the belief that it will be a major player in the European fuel future.

As for the LNG engine, it's just one part of Volvo's new "Blue Power" strategy, and is intended to complement the company's CNG-powered VNM and VNL model daycabs. It will also be available in Mack trucks, of course.

Trace amounts of diesel will ignite the natural gas in the new 13-liter LNG engine, delivering a claimed 30% fuel-efficiency improvement over spark-ignition engines, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared with diesels. Volvo is aiming the engine at long-haul applications and says that it can meet the above numbers without cutting into power, torque or fuel efficiency.

While the engine will be a certified Volvo motor, the company is working with Westport in its development.

"We're not putting all our eggs in one basket," said Olof Persson, Volvo Group president and CEO, during a roundtable discussion with trucking journalists.

"We don't know where it will go," he said bluntly on the topic of new fuel alternatives. Volvo still has some questions regarding CNG and LNG as viable long-term fuel options.

While Persson stressed that they want to bring the technology Volvo customers are asking for, the immature natural gas infrastructure, as well as the fact that it's not a renewable fuel, has given them pause in diving headfirst into CNG and LNG.

"None of these fuels is a slam dunk," added Ron Huibers, president of Volvo Trucks North America.

SO, ENTER DME, A VOLVO FAVORITE. "Tests are very positive in Europe," Persson told reporters in Miami Beach. "We have vehicles running on it."

In fact, the company has about a dozen trucks running DME in Sweden, with the fuel sourced from "black liquor," a pulp-and-paper-mill waste product.

Volvo likes the DME option because its tanks are like those used with propane, so they're cheaper and lighter than CNG and LNG tanks. DME needs a tank pressure of just 75 psi versus CNG's 300 psi and LNG's cryogenic requirement. No DEF is needed, and possibly no SCR. Non-toxic, DME burns with a blue flame (hence "Blue Power").

The Swedish outfit has made this point before and repeated it in Florida: "We must be prepared for everything," Persson said in regards to new fuels. The company would love to see some standardization but will prepare for all possibilities.