Transportation is ripe for advancements, as companies clamor for lower fuel prices and struggle to meet ever stricter government requirements on fuel efficiency and emissions. To date, research into alternative fuels has produced biofuels, which primarily use corn and thereby driving up food prices, and natural gas.
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Natural gas is an exciting prospect, given it burns more cleanly than diesel and the U.S. is producing an unprecedented amount of it with fracking. However, using natural gas to fuel fleet vehicles would require extensive and expensive modifications to the trucks, as well as the installation of fueling stations around the nation.
Volvo, in conjunction with the California-based Safeway, believe they’ve come across an answer. Dimethyl ether (DME) is naturally produced, much like compost for agriculture. It comes from methane gas emitted from manure, rotting foliage, landfills, and even natural gas. It burns cleanly, producing no soot, and emits a fraction of the pollutants associated with burning diesel fuel. DME produces 95 percent fewer emissions than diesel and 70 percent fewer than natural gas.
According to Volvo, trucks burning DME need no exhaust gas recirculation, require no particulate filters (as do diesel engines), and need no variable geometry turbocharger. Currently, only one fleet in the world is using DME, a firm with a mere ten trucks operating in Sweden. The only modifications a truck needs to run on DME are a new injection system, cylinder heads, and a different fuel tank.
Another upside to DME is that Volvo has found a way to produce it in small quantities, so development of the fuel can take place locally or regionally. There are, however, a few downsides to the exciting new alternative fuel. Primarily, a truck would need to carry twice the amount of fuel to go the same distance as it would operating on diesel fuel. Volvo maintains it is still an energy-efficient fuel source, and plans to develop DME are ongoing in California. [/show_to]
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