A new fuel will soon be powering some vehicles in a test project in California. Volvo’s heavy truck division is partnering with an innovative California start-up, Oberon Fuels, to develop Dimethyl Ether (DME) as a diesel engine fuel replacement, at a price comparable to regular diesel fuel. DME, already in use as a propellant in many consumer products, is a non-toxic, non-carcinogenic fuel that can be made from a variety of organic sources – like biogas from food and animal waste, wastewater treatment facilities and landfills. DME could potentially reduce California’s dependence on crude oil, decrease methane emissions, and reduce air pollution.
CDFA’s Division of Measurement Standards (DMS) has issued a developmental engine fuel variance to Oberon Fuels for this project. Fuel variances permit companies to use fleets to perform road tests of fuels in controlled environments. CDFA staff typically makes suggestions on test design and monitors progress.
Starting in early 2014, Safeway and Oberon Fuels will conduct a one-year study, based at the Safeway Distribution Center in the San Joaquin Valley, using a small fleet of specially-modified Volvo trucks. The data collected will assist in the development of a DME fuel performance specification that must be approved by ASTM International, a body that develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards for many products, including quality standards for fuels. Once an internationally agreed-upon standard is established, CDFA will allow the retail sale of DME throughout California.
To protect the driving public and retail businesses, CDFA requires all commercially sold fuels to meet ASTM or SAE International standard specifications. This ensures the fuels sold will not harm vehicle engines or create unsafe situations on California’s roads.