Topsoe has been researching DME synthesis and conversion for more than 20 years. Initial research focused on using DME as an intermediary for production of gasoline through the TIGAS process, and later products like acetic acid were produced using DME as an intermediary. Later research has concentrated on production of DME - in particular fuel (diesel) grade DME.
DME as an intermediate
The Tigas process which converts synthesis gas to gasoline is based on an initial conversion of synthesis gas into methanol followed by a conversion of the methanol into gasoline. The methanol synthesis is equilibrium limited and Topsoe's research uncovered that the subsequent conversion of methanol into DME greatly enhanced conversion.
Consequently much effort has gone into the development of combination catalysts in which synthesis gas is converted into a DME/ methanol mixture, but at a conversion much higher than the methanol conversion. These efforts succeeded and we have demonstrated continuous operation of such a catalyst for many thousand hours and derived the kinetic parameters.
DME as an end product
In the early 90's Topsoe's researchers realized that DME was an excellent diesel fuel. Others have pointed out that DME is also an LPG substitute. Thus numerous application of either fuel grade or chemical grade DME was recognized in addition to the sole application of DME as a propellant gas. The easy way of making DME is by dehydration of methanol. For this purpose we developed a catalyst which can use raw methanol as feed.
Present DME research
DME as an end product has both fuel and chemical applications. Thus the separation process should be able to produce DME of the requested purity, and consequently the work on DME separation is continuing.
New applications of DME as intermediary are being uncovered and explored.