LOS ANGELES – Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego-based Oberon Fuels announced a joint research and development project aimed at building a commercial facility for the production of dimethyl ether (DME) from natural gas for use as a transportation fuel.

 The facility will be located in Southern California and produce DME fuel that can serve as an alternative to diesel and propane, the companies said.

“Fifty-five billion gallons of diesel fuel are consumed annually in the United States, and the trucking industry is looking for cost-effective solutions that meet the rigorous air quality standards and support the common goal of cleaner air,” said Hal D. Snyder, vice president of customer solutions for SoCalGas. “Using natural gas as a feedstock for DME is just another environmentally beneficial use for natural gas -- an abundant, cost effective and domestic fuel. We see DME as complementary to other natural gas transportation solutions.” 

The planned demonstration facility will use Oberon’s proprietary technology and process, which will mix natural gas with carbon dioxide, or CO2, to produce DME in small-scale, skid-mounted modular units that will produce 3,000 to 6,000 gallons of DME per day.  

DME generates almost no particulate matter and produces ultra-low levels of smog-causing nitrogen oxides, or NOx. DME burns cleaner than diesel while providing improved engine performance, the companies said. 

“We see great potential for widespread use of DME as a cleaner substitute for diesel and propane,” said Neil Senturia, CEO for Oberon Fuels. “We believe DME can be a key element in the overall solution to clean transportation in this country.”