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Large-scale waste-to-DME projects in development

1st September 2023

By: Nadine Ramdass

Creamer Media Writer

     

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Large-scale waste-to-dimethyl ether (DME) projects, one based in north-west Europe and the other on the Gulf Coast of the US, are in the feasibility stage, with the projects anticipated to produce the equivalent of about 165 000 t/y of renewable and recycled DME production.

Off-grid energy distributor SHV Energy and energy products and services distributor UGI International’s joint venture company Dimeta has partnered with clean technology company Enerkem to develop the two projects, says Dimeta advocacy and communications head Sophia Haywood.

The partnership began in October 2022, following Dimeta’s announcement that it was exploring the opportunity to develop waste-to-DME production.

“Collectively, these projects will have an impact equivalent to reducing the carbon footprint of over one-million liquefied petroleum gas- (LPG-) heated homes,” says Haywood.

Dimeta and Enerkem have adopted a stage-gated approach to the timeline of these projects, with the prefeasibility stages already completed. The next phase of the process is expected to be completed in 2024.

The projects are aligned with Dimeta’s aim to produce about 300 000 t of sustainable DME by 2027. This is part of the company’s efforts to reduce global carbon emissions and transition off-grid communities away from fossil fuels.

As part of that aim, Dimeta announced its first project, a waste-to-DME facility in Teesside, in the north of England, last year. The Teesside DME facility project will involve turning waste into 50 000 t of renewable and recycled carbon DME.

The Teesside DME facility is being developed by Dimeta and sustainable energy solutions company Kew Technology’s joint venture organisation Circular Fuels.

Decarbonisation Efforts
Haywood explains that decarbonisation is a significant challenge going into the future. Further, rural off-grid areas are often neglected in the transition to clean energy.

Haywood explains that a significant number of people rely on LPG and other fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, for daily needs such as cooking and heating as well as industrial processes.

Therefore, there is a need for a seamless transition through solutions that can be brought into the supply chain to assist in decarbonisation without negatively impacting on people, she highlights.

DME is a clean-burning fuel with zero sulphur oxide, and lower nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter emissions compared with other fuels such as oil, kerosene, or coal. DME serves as an innovative solution that provides a renewable alternative, while also tackling waste. Further, it can be used as a standalone solution or blended with LPG by up to 20% and used in existing LPG supply chains.

An advantage of blending DME with LPG is that heating appliances, such as boilers, and infrastructure do not need to be changed. “This makes it much more affordable for off-grid communities to make the transition, especially when compared to other costly technologies or retrofits,” says Haywood.

Waste to Fuel
While a variety of feedstocks and processes can be used to make DME, Haywood explains that Dimeta has chosen the gasification route, for its first waste-to-DME project in Teesside.

She says that DME is an excellent alternative to LPG owing to its versatility and numerous routes to production.

A significant challenge in the biofuels sector is securing enough feedstock to produce fuel. However, by focusing on waste, there is a plentiful source of feedstock, says Haywood.

She explains that waste is expected to increase significantly in the short to medium term and that with the associated challenge of waste management, using waste as feedstock and converting it into a valuable product, as opposed to putting it into landfill or incinerating it, offers economic benefits in addition to environmental benefits.

“Feedstock is a challenge that we’re all facing which is why we ended up narrowing down to using waste and working towards a greener, more circular economy.”

Haywood acknowledges that DME might not be the right alternative for every person or business. She emphasises that the solution must be right for the needs of the consumer or business, regardless of the technology used.

She explains that, depending on the requirements of consumers, other low-carbon technologies may be better suited to certain buildings and industries. Therefore, the energy industry must prioritise the consumer first and ensure there are multiple solutions available to meet their needs.

Ultimately, Dimeta is excited about the future pathway for DME and is confident that it can bring this solution to the market, Haywood concludes.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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