Fire department says ‘no’ to DME truck testing in NYC

Quimby Mug Bayou Florida Headshot

New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) announced that it’s put dimethyl ether (DME) testing on hold pending approval from the city’s fire department.

DSNY had planned last month to begin testing DME, a clean-burning biofuel, in an MP8-equipped Mack truck. However, the New York City Fire Department is unfamiliar with the fuel and has not yet approved of its use.

“They don’t have any experience with it and they’re highly cautious when we’re talking about a combustible fuel,” DSNY Commissioner Kathryn Garcia told reporters at a recent press conference in New York City.

Oberon Fuels, a DME producer in San Diego, Calif., reports on its website that the fuel “is a clean-burning, non-toxic, potentially renewable fuel. Its high cetane value and quiet combustion, as well as its inexpensive propane-like fueling system, make it an excellent, inexpensive diesel alternative that will meet strict emissions standards.”

DSNY Deputy Commissioner Rocco DiRico said he and DSNY Fleet Supervisor Spiro Kattan test-drove a truck equipped to run on DME in Texas. They were especially impressed that no emissions components were required on the truck’s engine, given the fuel’s exceptional exhaust characteristics.

“The truck that I drove in Texas performed flawlessly,” DiRico said. “It’s very simple. I opened the hood—Spiro and I—and it was like looking at a 1962 Chevy—there’s nothing on there, there’s no hang-ons, no after-treatments.

“It’s a very simplified version of what we know today. And it had the torque, the horsepower and the driveabliity that we so need. I intend to drive one sometime soon again, but the fuel needs to be vetted by the fire department and other entities. We certainly could measure the usefulness of it in a truck, but we cannot control the infrastructure and the regulatory aspect.”

DME can be produced from a variety of feedstocks and waste products making its future with sanitation companies even more intriguing.

“I think it fits in with the whole concept of ‘trash actually has value’ and can be converted into energy, or can be converted into things like compost on the food side and create that closed loop,” Garcia explained. “It’s a very different way to think about waste than anyone ever has in the recent past. Probably two or three generations ago, it is what people thought about all the time, but we got away from that. We just disposed everything. It all had to go away. We’re now going back to the future, so to speak, to really think about it as a closed loop.”