Automotive manufacturer Ford Motor Company is spearheading a €3.5-million research project to investigate the use of alternative fuels that could offer customers the power and performance of modern internal combustion engines, with enhanced fuel efficiency and environmental benefits comparable to an electric vehicle.
The Ford European Research and Innovation Centre is leading the project consortium, with the German government cofunding the three-year project.
The project will test the first-ever cars to run on environment-friendly dimethyl ether (DME), which is commonly used as a nontoxic propellant in aerosol spray gas, and oxymethylene ether (OME1), a liquid usually used as a solvent in the chemicals industry.
Ford notes that the ethers, which will power cars based on the Ford Mondeo model, offer the potential for extremely low particulate emissions and enhanced fuel efficiency.
These ethers can be generated from (fossil) natural gas, biogas or through a power-to-liquids process, which uses renewable-energy sources, such as solar energy, wind power, or waste products, combined with carbon dioxide (CO2) captured from the air.
This promising technology is being investigated in a parallel project together with RWTH Aachen University, in Germany, which explores the viability of different DME-generation methods, conversion efficiency, estimated fuel prices, and infrastructure aspects.
Other project partners include the Technical University of Munich, the Research Association for Combustion Engines, called FVV, international certification organisation TUEV, automotive manufacturer Denso, engineering company IAV Automotive Engineering, and fuel manufacturer Oberon Fuels.
DME produced by Oberon has received approval from the US Environmental Protection Agency as a biogas-based fuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard, which means that it could be used as a fuel in the US.
Meanwhile, through the FVV – the leading forum for joint research projects on engine technology in Germany – the project findings will be shared with key players within the automotive industry.
“The CO2 produced by a car powered by DME from renewable sources could be comparable to the amount generated by a marathon runner covering the same distance – but with performance similar to a diesel-powered vehicle,” says Ford Europe technical specialist for powertrain combustion systems Werner Willems.
“This is a project that could help place vehicles with significantly reduced CO2 and particulate emissions on the market at affordable costs,” he avers.
The DME and OME1 products produce almost no particulates and they share characteristics with diesel fuel that are expected to make conversion of diesel engines possible with comparable performance.
It is also estimated that DME from renewable-energy sources could offer well-to-wheel emissions of about 3 g/km of CO2.
Like liquefied petroleum gas, DME must be stored in a slightly pressurised tank, while OME1 can be stored in a conventional tank system. The DME-powered engines are expected to benefit from almost soot-free combustion, higher thermal efficiency and excellent cold-start properties.
Ford global powertrain research and advanced engineering director Andreas Schamel further notes that the growth of the world’s population is putting ever-increasing demands on energy, especially fossil fuels.
“[Consequently], alternative renewable fuels like methyl ethers will play a pivotal role in the future,” he says, emphasising that DME is safe, burns cleaner than conventional diesel, and, most importantly, is versatile.
The energy generated from solar, wind and other renewables can be stored within the fuel itself, which enables DME and OME1 to be used across a range of applications, Schamel concludes.