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Enabling Zero Impact Diesel Engines with Renewable DME

Enabling Zero Impact Diesel Engines with Renewable DME

Program: Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program
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Decorative: single-cylinder engine

At long last, engine and fuel optimization could unlock the potential of dimethyl ether

Project team: Robert Middleton, Mechanical Engineering (PI); André L. Boehman, Mechanical Engineering

Project Summary

For decades, dimethyl ether (DME) has shown great promise as an alternative transportation fuel. DME has little or no negative effect on human health, properties similar to propane, and best-in-class energy output. Its widespread use would reduce GHG emissions and pollution while providing commercial opportunities. Yet, despite all of its positive attributes, no company has been able to commercialize vehicles that can run on this synthetic fuel.

Production is not the problem. The fuel can be made from a variety of feedstocks, as well as from captured carbon dioxide and renewable hydrogen. The production path of DME from agricultural waste to clean renewable fuel could benefit rural communities with large agricultural industries, allowing the creation of new markets and a closed local loop from farm to fuel and back to farm.

Rather, the challenge is in the effective utilization of DME in durable, clean-burning engines. Low lubricity and viscosity lead to wear and leakage problems within the fuel injection pump and fuel injectors, and the fuel’s combustion can be poor.

This project team will leverage partnerships with Ford, the EPA, and Oberon Fuels to address these barriers to uptake. The team will create and install a single-cylinder diesel engine that operates on DME. They will use this test engine to explore different additives and fuel blends, aiming to optimize DME combustion and achieve a “zero impact” diesel engine. The goal is to find a blend that achieves high engine efficiency, ultra-low pollutant emissions, and deep negative carbon intensity. The platform for advanced DME research developed through this project will position the team to be highly competitive for future external funding.

This team received a $50,000 CNAP faculty research grant in 2022.