Beyond Diesel

Could the next big thing in fuel be DME—that’s di-methyl-ether?

Could the next big thing in fuel be DME—that’s di-methyl-ether?

Volvo Truck Corp. is going to be finding out in a field test that it is going to be running between 2010 and 12 in Sweden. Specifically, it is going to be testing 14 Volvo FH trucks running with Bio-DME, which is a bio-mass-based (e.g., made from the a by-product of pulp manufacture) fuel.

The advantage vs. ordinary diesel fuel: carbon dioxide emissions are cut by 95%.


“Behind the wheel, it’s business as usual. Performance and driving properties are exactly the same as in the diesel variant,” says Mats Franzén, product manager, Engines, Volvo Trucks. And the required modifications to the vehicle are comparatively minor.

One drawback is that DME has a lower energy content—about half that of diesel—which necessitates the installation of larger fuel tanks. (A special fuel pump for the common-rail system is necessary, as are special injectors, which were developed by Volvo and Delphi.) In addition to which, DME is normally gaseous (its most common application is as a propellant in spray cans) so it is necessary to keep the on-board fuel at 5 bar pressure so that it is a liquid.

A plus is that the combustion process results in low levels of particulates and nitrogen oxides, so that the after-treatment system can be simplified.

The European Union—one of the partners in the study, along with the Swedish Energy Agency, fuel companies, and industrial companies—estimates that there is the potential to replace about 50% of diesel oil for truck transport applications by 2030.