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Enerkem produces bioDME as an alternative to diesel

Canada-headed thermochemical technology developer, Enerkem Inc., has announced that it has successfully produced a clean, renewable biobased dimethyl ether (bioDME), a by-product of biomethanol, that could help address global climate change efficiently by replacing the use of diesel fuel in the transportation sector.

At its Westbury innovation centre in Québec, Enerkem tests unconventional feedstocks and raw materials
proposed by its clients and partners. The plant also serves for the development of new products and as a
training center for our plant technicians and operators (photo courtesy Enerkem).

While Enerkem is currently focused on the commercial production of biomethanol and advanced ethanol as sustainable biofuels replacing gasoline, this new development reaffirms the company’s continued innovation leadership as well as having the potential to expand the company’s biofuels business for the transportation sector.

Using the company’s proprietary thermochemical technology, its innovation group has tested and validated the production of fuel-grade bio-DME made from unrecoverable carbon-rich municipal solid waste (MSW). More than 1 000 hours of operations at its Innovation Centre in Westbury, Québec have been completed.

Diesel fuels are three times more polluting than a waste-derived DME-based fuel. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Climate Change Synthesis report, more than seven gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent are attributed to the transportation sector globally. By replacing diesel fuel with a clean, renewable biobased fuel alternative, such as bioDME, we could significantly and instantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said Dr Stéphane Marie-Rose, Director of Enerkem’s Innovation Centre in Westbury.

BioDME offers a 20 percent higher cetane rating on average than diesel or biodiesel fuels – the cetane rating is to diesel engine what octane rating is to a gasoline engine. Moreover, DME combustion does not produce sulphur oxides (SOx) or fine particles, and it contributes to lower emissions from other harmful residual pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) that are mainly produced from the combustion of fossil-based fuels.

In addition to the various environmental and economic advantages, there are many possible applications for waste-derived bioDME fuel. For example, it could be used to replace diesel fuels used in cars, trucks, trains or even ships, while providing better, cleaner combustion.

Enerkem intends to further develop and optimize this latest innovation while evaluating its potential commercial applications. In April this year, the company revealed that it succeeded, at pilot scale, in producing a high octane fuel from bioDME by with a DME-to-high-octane-gasoline catalyst developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the United States (US).

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