Dimethyl ether (typically abbreviated as DME), also known as methoxymethane, wood ether, dimethyl oxide or methyl ether, is the simplest ether. It is a colourless, non-toxic, highly flammable gas at ambient conditions, but can be handled as a liquid when lightly pressurized. The properties of DME are similar to those of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), and therefore it is particularly suitable for substituting conventional fuels in automotive sector.
Traditional way to convert syngas into DME is a two-step synthesis: first to methanol in the presence of catalyst (usually copper-based), and then by subsequent methanol dehydration in the presence of a different catalyst (for example, silica-alumina) into DME.
Alternatively, DME can be produced through direct synthesis using a dual-catalyst system which permits both methanol synthesis and dehydration in the same process unit, with no intermediate methanol separation, a procedure that, by eliminating the intermediate methanol synthesis stage, promises efficiency advantages and cost benefits. Both the one-step and two-step processes are commercially available.
More information can be found on European Biofuels Technology Platform (EBTP).