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May 12, 2009

Iwatani Succeeds in Making DME from Wood Biomass

Iwatani Corporation


Iwatani Corporation (Headquarters: Osaka & Tokyo, President: Akiji Makino, Capital: 20,000 million yen) has succeeded in synthesizing DME*1 from woody biomass*2 through joint research with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. The biomass derived DME developed in this research is an energy featuring “biomass properties” that do not produce carbon dioxide (carbon neutral*3), and the “cleanliness” of DME. Potential applications include automotive fuels and co-firing with LPG. Widely available in the future, domestic biofuels, such as the one developed in this research, will significantly contribute to energy security, particularly in Japan which relies on imports for most of its energy resources. Some issues, including production costs, have yet to be addressed, but woody biomass derived DME has huge potential as a new energy for reducing the impact on the environment, curbing CO2 emissions and diversifying energy resources.


[Potential as a small-scale production business model]

Equipment originally designed at laboratory level, was developed and used for successful synthesizing processes, where DME is produced highly efficiently from wood chips gasified under a pressure below 1MPa (a yield of more than 75g DME from 1Nm3 gasified wood chips). The research team succeeded in producing 120g of sample DME in this research.


This is the first successful production of DME from woody biomass under a pressure below 1MPa. Research into biogas/fuel in Japan has never gone beyond the synthesis of gases from the perspective of large-scale, mass productions during the past 10 years. Research in other countries has progressed in a similar way, although small-scale plants have not been studied so far.


The process of synthesizing DME from biomass under a pressure below 1MPa is excluded from the scope of the High Pressure Gas Safety Act, suggesting various potential applications. For this reason, the biomass derived DME production process developed in this research is innovative, and could lead, for example, to a business model not bound by scale and is highly mobile. This model will allow production of small quantities of biomass derived DME for consumption in demand areas using mobile plants that can be flexibly installed in areas where woody and herbaceous raw materials are easily obtained, and can be developed into a business model for local production and local consumption of biofuels.




 DME (CH3OCH3: Dimethyl ether) has similar properties to LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), and can be produced from a range of materials including natural gas, coal, heavy oils, and biomass. This synthesized gas also features multiple uses, including being a supplement for commercial and industrial LPG and an alternative to diesel fuels.


 Biomass fuel is solid, liquid or gaseous fuel produced from recycled organic materials, and may be referred to as “energy produced from living things.” Corn and other plants, the uses of which include food, are main feedstock at present. The biofuel developed in this research is “second generation” biofuel produced from woody and herbaceous feedstock not in demand as a cereal (staple) food.


 “Carbon neutral” refers to achieving net zero carbon emissions in the lifecycle of a plant. The carbon released into the atmosphere by burning a plant is balanced by the amount of carbon absorbed by photosynthesis in the growth process of the plant. The carbon neutral status effectively means it does not increase or decrease carbon emissions in the environment.



[Applications as an automotive fuel and as a form of domestic energy]

Iwatani will continue to focus on studying the two topics below based on the results of this research.

① Application of biomass based DME to automotive fuels

② Co-firing with LPG for home use, etc.


Global efforts to use biomass fuels, a renewable energy derived from biological materials, are increasing as a countermeasure to CO2 emissions due to their carbon neutrality.

DME is recognized as a clean energy that does not contain sulfur compounds, or generate black smoke or particulate matter (PM), and easily decomposes in sunlight without emitting greenhouse gases.

Given this scenario, the DME Vehicle Promotion Committee*4, which Iwatani is a member of, is planning road running tests of DME vehicles driven by biomass derived DME fuels. With depletion of oil in the future, the extensive use of biomass derived DME as domestic energy for co-firing with LPS is expected to contribute to mitigating the potential problems.




The DME Vehicle Promotion Committee was voluntarily organized by private companies involved in DME vehicles including those in the fuel, plant, parts, infrastructure, and vehicle development sectors, with the aim of commercializing DME vehicles. Its activities range from basic studies to the actual production of DME vehicles.



The Act for the Promotion of Development and Introduction of Alternative Energy Resources, revised in FY2009, strongly recommends the LPG industry to introduce non-fossil energy. The successful synthesis of DME from biomass in this research is deemed to be fundamental to implementing the effective use of non-fossil energy, types of energy Iwatani has continued to develop. Iwatani will continue to focus on research and development, and ultimately, commercialization of clean energy which is free from particulate matter (PM), and contributes to reducing CO2 emissions and dependency on oil thanks to the carbon neutral characteristics of biomass.



Eucalyptus wood chips as feedstock                DME synthesized from biomass