Volvo Trucks became the first manufacturer to announce plans to commercialize dimethyl ether (DME)-powered heavy duty commercial vehicles in North America. As the latest step in its comprehensive "Blue Power" alternative fuel strategy, Volvo revealed ongoing U.S. customer field testing of trucks powered by DME, and demonstrated the technology after an announcement at the California State Capitol.
DME mirrors the exceptional performance qualities and energy efficiency of diesel, and burns clean without producing any soot. It can be made from a variety of sustainable domestic sources, as well as from North America's abundant supply of natural gas, and therefore has the potential to significantly reduce energy dependency. Converting natural gas to DME is an innovative way to address many of the distribution, storage and fueling challenges otherwise presented by natural gas as a heavy truck fuel. Volvo announced plans to begin limited production in 2015 of DME-powered vehicles.
"With the addition of DME-powered vehicles to our previously announced CNG and LNG offering, Volvo's Blue Power line-up will offer the industry's most comprehensive approach to the developing North American alternative fuel market," said Göran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North American Sales and Marketing.
Nyberg was joined at the California state capitol by Cliff Rechtschaffen, Gov. Jerry Brown's senior energy advisor, and by executives from Oberon Fuels, the first company to announce plans to commercialize DME fuel production in North America.
"It's exciting to have a global leader like Volvo Trucks partnering with California companies to develop innovative technology in the Golden State," said Kish Rajan, director of the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). "The State of California continues to attract the most dynamic companies in the world and GO-Biz looks forward to helping Volvo and Oberon maximize the benefits of DME as a commercial transportation fuel."
Volvo's DME technology will be available in a Volvo D13 engine, the top-selling heavy duty engine in the world, and the company's I-Shift automated manual transmission will be standard on DME-powered trucks. DME-powered vehicles will join a line-up that already includes CNG-powered Volvo VNM and VNL model daycabs. The company will also introduce its own proprietary LNG engine – North America's first fully integrated natural gas solution – in VNL daycabs and sleepers next year.
The DME announcement is the latest example of Volvo's ongoing commitment to leadership in alternative fuel and driveline development. In 2007, Volvo showcased in Brussels seven commercial vehicles powered by seven different CO2-neutral fuels, one of which was DME. The company demonstrated these vehicles in U.S. operation in 2008, in conjunction with the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC).
Volvo decided to invest in DME technology and introduce it to the North American market because of the numerous benefits DME offers as a heavy-truck fuel. Its high cetane number delivers performance and efficiency comparable to diesel, and it packages densely enough on a truck to support long range transports, or to allow room for vocational equipment on the frame. It is an excellent compression ignition fuel which, like diesel, requires no separate ignition mechanism. Unlike LNG, it does not require cryogenic temperatures; it is handled and stored like propane, with tank pressures of only 75 psi (vs. 3,600 psi for CNG). It can safely be stored on-site.