Empa scientists are working on a new fossil fuel alternative for commercial vehicles that uses the cleaner burning, but high volatile, Dimethyl Ether (DME).
The research carried out in collaboration with the University of Zurich as part of the LightChEC project, could pave way for a new eco-fuel that not only emits lesser CO2 but also meets the stricter exhaust emission limit set by the EU.
Many commercial vehicle manufacturers and truck operators have already begun considering alternative powertrain systems to improve the environmental performance of their fleets.
Electric drives stand at the foremost of such options, but they are hardly feasible for long-distance operation as the batteries would be too heavy, the charging times too long and the required charging power too high for competitive use.
Other alternatives like Hydrogen have already made their way into Hyundai’s fuel cell trucks that are currently under commercial test operations in Switzerland.
There is yet another alternative for long-distance transport, opines Empa, and that happens to be Dimethyl Ether (DME).
DME is produced in several tens of thousand tons annually. The chemical is used as a propellant in spray cans and serves as a component of refrigerants in cooling systems.
It is also widely used as an intermediate product in the chemical industry and can be produced at low costs and almost loss-free from methanol.
DME further possesses similar properties to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). This is significant as it can be transported and stored in standard tanks under low pressure in liquid form.
The technology for LPG refueling stations, and thereby also for DME, is hence inexpensive; it is known worldwide and has already been in use for decades.
What’s more, since DME contains chemically bound oxygen, the substance burns particularly clean and with little soot formation.
Empa’s Andreas Borgschulte and his team are presently investigating chemical processes that produce DME as efficiently as possible.
According to them, the method of adsorption/desorption-assisted catalysis is considered to be very promising.
Empa has also partnered with FPT Motorenforschung AG Arbon, Politechnico di Milano, and lubricant manufacturer Motorex to extend this knowledge beyond the lab.
They have built a special test engine to test this novel powertrain concept and intend to provide sound data on the combustion process, efficiency and environmental impact of DME in the commercial vehicle sector.
According to project leader Patrik Soltic, the first results from this experimental engine have so far proven very promising.
It runs stable in all engine load ranges, produces practically no soot particles and significantly lower NOx values than a diesel-run engine.
Image and content: Empa