A startup company developing technology that allows diesel trucks to run on straight renewable fuels such as ethanol announced this week it had successfully completed an on-road demonstration of the technology.
ClearFlame Engine Technologies said in a news release the demonstration included installing its technology to a Class 8 diesel truck running on a Cummins X15 500hp 15L heavy-duty engine — commonly used for long-haul truck and off-highway applications — allowing it to run on E98 ethanol.
The company said it will continue testing trucks under various operating conditions throughout the first quarter of 2022 and plans to launch customer beta testing, or user-acceptance testing, by the end of 2022.
In October 2021, ClearFlame announced it had received about a $17 million investment from the Bill Gates-owned Breakthrough Energy Ventures, John Deere, commodity trader Mercuria and Clean Energy Ventures.
The funding is expected to enable commercialization of the company’s engine technology for the long-haul trucking, agriculture and power-generation sectors.
The engine can run on 98% ethanol straight off the rack or even on E85 so long as the fuel is close to 85% ethanol.
In October 2020, ClearFlame announced the technology delivered 500 horsepower and more than 2,500 foot-pounds of torque, “while eliminating the need for additional aftertreatment such as selective catalytic reduction or diesel particulate filter systems.”
Previously, ClearFlame received $4 million in non-dilutive and grant funding from the Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas and Illinois Corn Growers Associations, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and others. The company completed its $3 million Series Seed financing in early 2020, led by Clean Energy Ventures.
In addition to long-haul trucking, the technology enables emissions reduction for hard-to-electrify applications in a wide range of industries, including agriculture, power generation and other off-highway markets, the company said in a news release.
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ClearFlame is also working with John Deere on a pilot demonstration project for an off-highway engine platform, demonstrating the versatility of the company’s technology as a retrofit option or original equipment integration.
The company said its technology is fuel agnostic and can run on a range of renewable fuels.
“This demonstration proves the workability of our technology that takes the dirty diesel fuel out of heavy-duty trucks,” ClearFlame CEO and Co-Founder BJ Johnson said in a statement.
“The transportation sector is currently the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. Simply hoping that we get to net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 is not good enough. If we want to get serious in the fight against climate change, we need more solutions that can enable swift decarbonization today, particularly for heavy-duty trucks, which are among the worst offenders.”
Julie Blumreiter, ClearFlame co-founder and chief technology officer, said the technology is a “game-changer” toward decarbonizing the transportation sector.
“Driving this vehicle today is actually less carbon intensive than a comparable electric-powered truck,” she said.
“The ClearFlame-enabled engine meets the performance and efficiency requirements customers expect from their diesel trucks, while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fuel costs.”
Johnson told ethanol industry representatives at the National Ethanol Conference in Houston in February 2020 the technology has the potential to create a large market for ethanol. He said even an optimistic 20% market penetration into the $231 billion heavy-duty diesel market would create 15 billion gallons of demand for ethanol per year.
The reason ethanol’s application in diesel engines hasn’t happened is because the performance and simplicity of the diesel engine is tied to its dirty emissions, Johnson said.
Cleaner alternatives like spark ignition lack the performance required in many heavy-duty applications. ClearFlame’s engine, Johnson said, is the only option to provide both high performance and low emissions.
A selling point for the ClearFlame technology is it can replace petroleum fuels with ethanol in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as particulate matter and smog, at the same time reducing overall engine cost.
ClearFlame has been working with Cummins Inc. and Argonne National Laboratory to develop the technology. Johnson said diesel fleets would have the potential to achieve a 40% reduction in carbon emissions and a $45,000 cost savings.
All the while, the ClearFlame engine has 30% more torque than engines running on diesel.
The diesel sector spends about $3.3 billion in aftertreatment each year. Using ethanol in a diesel engine could save the sector $2.5 billion in aftertreatment costs, Johnson said.
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