DME Engine "Notorious Rub" - Reader's Letters
There’s The Rub
I like the piece on DME, but of course there’s always the “notorious rub,” just like there is with hydrogen, which all of the Greenies promote as the holy grail except when you dig into the nitty-gritty: Where the heck do we get hydrogen from? We mostly process it from natural gas, which is pointless and does nothing to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and you need a brand-new and very expensive high-pressure fuel storage system and fuel dispensing/refueling system with all new infrastructure. DME has some of the same issues if it’s not made from organic waste materials because it’s also made from natural gas, but it does have an affinity with the long proven technology of propane/LPG gas. If it can be processed from agricultural waste and sewage sludge and so forth, excellent. Otherwise I don’t see a big advantage. It does have an edge over diesel in that for diesel to meet these very strict tailpipe emission abatement standards, there are all sorts of expensive aftertreatment systems needed that raises costs. A DME engine could be made as a high-compression “compression ignition diesel style” engine or as a spark-ignition turbocharged direct-injection engine, and it’d only require comparatively proven emission abatements technology. Gaseous fuels like DME, LP/propane, and CNG don’t produce soot or particulate matter, which is great for transit buses, delivery vehicles working in urbanized areas, and trucks used in docks and port terminals, but I don’t see this as an over-the-road fuel alternative. For over-the-road applications, you’re not going to extend what’s essentially a gas pipeline system to every big ol’ truck stop/refueling depot in the middle of some of the more sparsely populated sections of the U.S. It’s not gonna happen. Urbanized areas already have extensive natural gas-related infrastructure, and adapting DME for applications in these areas wouldn’t and shouldn’t be overly expensive.
The idea at the outset is that the fuel source can be whatever the local waste material is, whether it’s landfill gases, plant matter, animal waste—anything with methane. We like that whatever the source is, the quality of the end product is consistent. It isn’t set up yet for cross-country hauling, but a company (or several companies) can use a local pump that can offer fuel for a range of several hundred miles. Over time, as the number of modular pumps increases, there could eventually be an infrastructure across the country. Yes, natural gas is a fossil fuel, but because it is said to be much more plentiful than petroleum, we see that as a good way to transition from petroleum to using waste products to power vehicles. What we were really impressed with was the potential DME offers. It’s nice to have hope about new fuels with all the doom and gloom we hear about the future of petroleum. Besides, how happy would environmentalists be if we could make good use of waste products?
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