Monday, June 04, 2012

Volvo Successfully Tests Biomass-Based DME Fuel in Trucks

'We Have a New Fuel and It's Working' - Volvo's Lars Martensson

Volvo is running successful field tests with trucks powered by bio-DME, a second-generation liquid biofuel.

Since last autumn, 10 specially adapted Volvo trucks have been operating on Swedish roads. They do not stand out in the traffic--they do not travel more slowly and they do not look any different--but they are revolutionary. The reason is that they are powered by bio-DME, a fuel that is produced from biomass--renewable, totally natural raw materials--which reduces carbon emissions by 95 per cent compared with diesel.

The field tests have now reached the halfway point, and the results so far have both met and exceeded expectations.

“We have, for example, demonstrated both that the technology works in practice, when it comes to both the production of fuel and trucks in traffic, and that the infrastructure with filling stations in different parts of Sweden works effectively. The test results bode well for the future,” says Lars MÃ¥rtensson, environmental director at Volvo Trucks.

The field tests, which are being conducted in collaboration with companies including Preem and the Swedish company, Chemrec, which is responsible for fuel production, has aroused interest worldwide--an unexpected bonus, according to Lars MÃ¥rtensson.

“We have shown that it’s possible to take an idea from the laboratory to full-scale operation and we have also successfully spread this knowledge all over the world. There is now a clear-cut interest from countries including China, Russia and the USA and they are markets with huge potential,” he says.

Converting Wood or Agricultural Waste into Liquid Biofuel 

Bio-DME, dimethyl ether produced from biomass, is a liquid, so-called second-generation biofuel that can be made from wood or by-products and waste from agricultural production. “According to the calculations, bio-DME could replace up to 50 per cent of the diesel that is currently being consumed by commercial vehicles in Europe within the next 20 years. We have a chance to make a fantastic contribution to help the environment,” he adds.

The bio-DME that is being used in the Volvo Trucks field tests is made from black liquor, a by-product from the production of pulp. The black liquor is actually used in the flow of energy that powers the pulp mill. Chemrec’s process takes part of the black liquor, gasifies it and turns it into usable fuel which can currently, during the on-going field tests, be obtained at four filling stations in different parts of Sweden.

Bio-DME production is still in its infancy, but the potential is enormous. As a fuel in a diesel engine, bio-DME produces the same level of efficiency and lower noise levels compared with a traditional engine. Compared with diesel, bio-DME generates no less that 95 per cent fewer carbon emissions. Combustion also produces extremely low levels of particulates and nitrogen oxide. Taken as a whole, this makes bio-DME an ideal fuel for diesel engines.

DME is a gas, but it is converted into liquid at a pressure of just 5 bar. Handling is uncomplicated and resembles that of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). DME can be produced from both natural gas and different kinds of biomass. When it is made from biomass, the fuel is called bio-DME.