Dimethyl ether (DME) is a clean-burning synthetic fuel that can be produced from natural gas, coal, biomass, or directly from carbon dioxide. It is a versatile fuel suitable for vehicles, electricity generators, and gas cookers; and can be used as a blend stock with LPG or a diesel substitute. Regardless of use, it burns significantly cleaner than its conventional counterparts. Making DME involves a series of steps which typically require large equipment and a delicate balance of heat and flow (mass) transfer for optimum performance.
With the support of the Australia‑India Strategic Research Fund, researchers from the CSIRO and the Indian Institute of Petroleum are leading consortia from each country to develop technologies and systems for the production and distribution of DME. They work across a range of fields—chemistry, engineering and economics.
Applying the principles of process intensification, a miniaturised plant has been developed which shrinks the three-step chemical process to convert natural gas into DME. Process intensification uses novel design and manufacturing techniques that allow a process to be made smaller without the loss of production capacity.
These mini-plants have the advantages of being more energy efficient and cheaper to build, meaning the requirement for large reserves of, say, natural gas isn’t imperative. Consequently, more distributed production systems for DME and other fuels and chemicals, are thought to be possible through the use of mini-plants, allowing better access to this clean-burning fuel.
In addition to developing the mini plants, the researchers are also investigating how best to use DME in transport vehicles and are modelling the economics of DME production and use. Their aim is to generate systems for the production, distribution and consumption of DME, a clean burning locally available fuel.
Australian Team Leader:
Dr Jim Patel, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
Indian Team Leader:
Dr Ankur Bordoloi, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research – Indian Institute of Petroleum