As regular readers of our news will know, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) has over recent years been a regular competitor, not to mention a previous category winner, in the prestigious Shell European Eco-marathon – a road race which is not about speed, but about covering the maximum distance on the minimum fuel.
DTU continued its participation this year, with the hydrogen powered car Innovator entered in the Prototype category, and the dimethyl ether (DME) powered car Dynamo entered in the Urban Concept category. Both cars won their respective categories, with Innovator racking up the equivalent of 3,549 km per litre of gasoline (8,347 miles per gallon) and Dynamo achieving 589 km per litre (1,385 miles per gallon) – the latter setting a new record in its particular category.
The fuel that Dynamo uses – DME – is a compression-ignition fuel, like diesel. DTU has designed and engineered its own specially modified internal combustion engine to run on this fuel, which can be produced from biomass and is significantly more environmentally-friendly than conventional diesel.
Dynamo's victory in the 2009 Shell Eco-marathon highlights DME's credentials as a biomass-derived fuel for the future. Besides being relatively inexpensive to produce, it also burns smokelessly (because the molecule has no carbon-carbon bonds) and produces less NOx and CO2 than conventional diesel. European study data has shown that compared on a kilowatt-hour basis with conventional diesel engines, DME powered engines produce almost 30 times less CO2. DME powered engines also run more quietly.