Volvo Trucks has announced plans to utilize a new, clean-burning alternative fuel to power its heavy-duty trucks. In a media event staged at the California State Capitol Thursday, the truck manufacturer said it will begin converting some of Volvo’s D13 heavy-duty truck engines to accept a non-toxic, non-carcinogenic fuel called dimethyl ether (DME).In a related announcement, Volvo said it will partner with Safeway Inc. and Oberon Fuels to test heavy-duty commercial vehicles powered by DME.
The alternative fuel can be made from a variety of organic sources — including biogas from food and animal waste, wastewater treatment facilities and landfills. DME can reduce CO2 by up to 95 percent compared to diesel, and it has the potential to significantly reduce energy dependency.
In addition, converting natural gas to DME is an innovative way to address many of the distribution, storage and fueling challenges otherwise presented by natural gas as a heavy truck fuel. It is currently used as a propellant in many household and cosmetic products.
Volvo said it has invested in the DME technology for the North American market because of the numerous benefits DME offers as an alternative to diesel fuel. The company plans to commercialize DME-powered vehicles in 2015.
Volvo said its partnership with Safeway and Oberon Fuels includes $500,000 in funding from California’s San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD) and will be the second customer field test conducted by Volvo Trucks in the United States.
Two DME-powered Volvo VNL models equipped with a Volvo D13 engine will run in the San Joaquin Valley region of California in Safeway’s commercial operations, using Oberon-produced DME. Oberon is the first company to announce plans to commercialize DME fuel production in North America, and has developed skid-mounted, small-scale production units that cost-effectively convert biogas and natural gas to DME.
The two announcements Thursday are the latest examples of Volvo’s commitment to developing alternative fuel drivelines. Six years ago in Brussels, Volvo showcased seven commercial vehicles powered by seven different CO2-neutral fuels, one of which was DME. The company demonstrated these vehicles in U.S. operation in 2008, in conjunction with the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC).
Volvo’s DME technology will be available in a Volvo D13 engine and will join a line-up that already includes Volvo VNM and VNL models that can be specified to run on compressed or liquefied natural gas. The company will also introduce its own proprietary LNG compression-ignition engine – North America’s first fully integrated natural gas solution – in Volvo VNL models next year.