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Ford cleans up diesel with ether fuel project

Date: 02 February 2016   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

Ford has launched a project to develop a pair of near zero-particulate renewable fuels suitable for use in conventional diesel engines.

The ?3.5m (£2.7m) three-year project - co-funded by the German government along with a consortium of motor industry suppliers, universities and other diesel specialists - is examining the use of ether-based fuels in diesel engines. Known as DME and OME1, the fuels can be produced from renewable sources and emit virtually no particulates, thereby solving the air quality issues associated with diesel engines.

 Speaking to BusinessCar, Werner Willems, technical specialist for powertrain combustion systems at Ford's research and advanced engineering centre in Aachen, described the fuels as "almost 100% compatible with existing engine technologies" and claimed that the move would not inflate the price of the vehicle, as is the case with electric and hybrid technology.

"Basically, when you look at the combustion properties of DME or OME1 and compare them to diesel, they're almost identical - but they don't produce any particulates so you wouldn't see any soot coming from the engine. Other than that, the combustion strategies are the same as those [of a normal diesel engine] so the customer has the benefit of buying a vehicle they are already familiar with, which wouldn't actually produce extra costs because the technology already exists."

Willems said minor modifications to the injection system and fuel tank were necessary in order for a conventional diesel engine to run on the fuels. He added that the CO2 emissions of an engine running on DME produced from renewable sources would be "comparable to the amount generated by a marathon runner covering the same distance".

The firm intends to have prototype Mondeos running on the fuel before the end of the project, after which it hopes distribution of the ethers will begin on a wider scale.

Willems said DME in particular behaved in a similar fashion to LPG and that it would be neither difficult nor expensive to convert an existing LPG station to distribute the fuel: "When you look at the cost of an LPG tank station, they're not very expensive. What Oberon Fuels [a clean diesel specialist in the US, also with an interest in DME] does is simply take LPG gas stations, replace the seals and use them for DME as well.

From a transitional point of view, that's something that could be easily implemented - and in collaboration with the fuel supplier industry. There's no reason it can't be done.