FPT testing dimethyl ether as alternative fuel for diesels

By Mike Brezonick21 January 2021

FPT is testing DME on an 11 L industrial engine.

FPT Industrial, the brand of CNH Industrial dedicated to the design, production and sale of engines and powertrains for on- and off-road vehicles, marine and power generation, announced it is testing dimethyl ether (DME) as an alternative fuel for compression ignition engines. The research, which involves testing the fuel with an FPT Industrial 11 L heavy-duty diesel engine, is being done in an effort assess the potential of alternative fuels and e-fuels in reaching the European CO2 emission targets in 2025 and 2030.

DME (CH3-O-CH3) has previously been demonstrated as a suitable fuel for compression ignition engines and can be produced from several renewable sources. Its chemical properties allow, with the correct engine hardware configuration and calibration, for very low NOx and particle emissions, while maintaining high engine efficiency. Challenges to the use of DME in engines include its low viscosity and lubricity, which can cause excess wear in fuel injection components, and its relatively low energy density compared to diesel fuel.

From a fuel storage and refueling perspective, DME is similar to liquified propane gas (LPG) in that it is a gaseous fuel at normal temperatures and pressures but is a liquid at very moderate (approximately 75 psi) pressure levels. It has been used for decades in industry, mainly as a propellant in aerosol cans, as it is non-toxic, odorless and can be absorbed in the troposphere.

The overall goal of the project is to advance the understanding of using DME as an alternative to diesel fuel and demonstrate clean combustion at comparable efficiency levels. Since DME combustion produces practically no particle emissions, a comparably simple selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system, without a particulate filter may be enough to comply with strict emission standards, FPT said.

The project is funded by SFOE (Swiss federal office for energy) and the test bench is operated at Empa Dübendorf, Switzerland, where the company has invested heavily in the infrastructure adaptations necessary for DME.

The first experimental data is showing some very promising results in terms of CO2 reduction, FPT said, along with very low NOx and particle emissions and similar engine efficiency to a diesel.

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