Oberon Fuels starts commercial production of renewable DME
Photo courtesy of Oberon Fuels

Oberon Fuels starts commercial production of renewable DME

Oberon Fuels, based in San Diego, California, U.S.A., has begun production of the first-ever renewable dimethyl ether (rDME) transportation fuel in the United States and the only current commercial production in the world. 

Because rDME’s properties allow it to cost-effectively store and transport renewable hydrogen, this milestone unlocks Oberon’s ability to reduce emissions from transportation, while accelerating the development of the hydrogen economy and a net-zero carbon future.

As part of a USD6 million project funded in part by a grant from the California Energy Commission, Oberon is converting waste methanol into rDME at its upgraded facility in Brawley, California. It is the first time this feedstock has been used to make rDME at commercial scale. In addition to waste methanol, other potential feedstocks include biogas from dairy waste, food wastes, agricultural waste, as well as excess electricity and CO2, resulting in ultra-low carbon to carbon-negative DME.

“This is a critical step on the path to decarbonizing the transportation sector,” said Elliot Hicks, chief operating and technology officer and an Oberon Fuels co-founder. “Our innovative approach uses waste resources to create a flexible molecule that can reduce emissions from fossil fuels, as well as create entirely new, super-clean fuels.”

Renewable DME has multiple pathways to reducing the carbon footprint of the transportation sector: as a diesel replacement, as a blend with propane and as an energy-dense, cost-effective way to move renewable hydrogen. rDME can help overcome some of the biggest barriers inhibiting the widespread use of hydrogen for transportation fuel, including access to renewable feedstocks; modular, scalable production; and energy-dense, cost-effective storage and transport. Once delivered, rDME can be converted to renewable hydrogen at the point of use.

DME is a hydrogen-rich molecule that handles like propane or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). It can be produced at or near renewable feedstock sources using Oberon’s modular production technology. This novel approach to renewable hydrogen production promises similarities to the influence that distributed, rooftop solar has had on decentralizing industrial power generation.

Moreover, because rDME is compatible with LPG, it requires minimal modifications to the existing global LPG distribution network and workforce, which have been safely handling and transporting similar molecules for more than a century.

“As one of the longest-standing propane companies in the United States, Suburban Propane is committed to offer our time-honored network, expertise and infrastructure to support Oberon Fuels in leading the way towards the future of our industry,” said Michael Stivala, president and chief executive officer of Suburban Propane Partners, L.P., which acquired a 39% equity stake in Oberon Fuels in 2020.

“Oberon’s production of renewable DME is not only a milestone for the company, it’s also a breakthrough for the global LPG industry as we seek new approaches to meet increasing customer and regulatory demands for cleaner fuels. Propane is already known for its versatile, cost-effective and clean burning attributes. Given the compatibility of these two molecules, we can immediately offer an even cleaner alternative for the transportation sector and beyond.”