BioDME 2nd Generation Biofuel

Biobased Dimethyl Ether

bioDME Production and Commercial Plant

How is bio dimethyl ether produced?

                 Bio DME is produced in two steps. The first step is methanol production from various substrates, such as biomass, and the second step is conversion of methanol to bio DME. In the first step, methanol is formed through the hydrogenation of both CO and CO2. Once the methanol has been formed, it is dehydrated to form DME and H2O. Multiple catalysts are involved throughout the entire process which assist in the conversion of materials. Researchers are constantly looking for ways to improve these processes and one common target is the manipulation of catalysts. By either using different catalysts or modifying original ones, the yield and selectivity of the process can be improved. One research group has modified a catalyst to improve selectivity by adding Ga or Zr promoters to the catalyst. This modification roughly doubled the selectivity and yield.

Has anyone produced bioDME commercially?

                 A proposal has been validated by Mitsubishi for the construction of a BioDME plant in Iceland in 2014. It will produce bioDME using exhaust from the Elkem Iceland ferrosilicon plant and mixing it with hydrogen derived from water via electrolysis. The company plans to replace the oil dependant transportation ships with DME-fueled ships. Not only would this result in reduced emissions, it would alleviate the issue of oil spills as DME is non-toxic and would not present a hazard if spilled. 

                 With the intent to revolutionize domestic gas needs, Pertamina plans to build a DME plant in Jakarta, Indonesia. Following a pilot domestic testing program, the company will begin construction on a two plant system. The first plant will produce methanol from coal. The methanol will then be further converted to DME in the second plant. This system is expected to produce over 1.7 million tons of DME per year. DME by Pertamina will not be green as it will have twice the green house gas contribution opposite petrodiesel and five times or greater green house gas opposite biomass sourced plant. 

                 During the past decade, DME Development Co., Ltd. has investigated the potential production of DME in a Japan based plant.  Upon reaching their objective production rate, the company has announced future production plans pending efficiency investigations.  Currently, efficiency has been successful, in respects to environmental effects, power consumption, and equipment resilience.  Further success will result in a full-time DME production plant.   

                 Volvo has been especially aggressive in the bioDME production research as they will benefit greatly from its use.  They are funding multiple projects involving its production as well as actively designing engines more efficient for DME use.  Because bioDME burns cleanly, the need for exhaust processing equipment on vehicles has been alleviated.  This translates to lower vehicle production costs, lower vehicle weight, and ultimately, greater transportation efficiency.  Other contributing companies include DHL and J-Trans transportation services.   

               A pulp and paper plant in Piteå, Sweden produces bioDME commercially since mid 2010 from waste black liquour, a byproduct of pulping process. 










Another biofuel which is close to commercialization is biobutanol