Ethanol offers a practical alternative to diesel fuel

It’s rare news that may bring a smile to corn farmers, environmentalists, highway truckers, and anyone else who uses a diesel engine for a living, but ClearFlame Engine Technologies may have brought Christmas early this year to everyone. these people.

The Illinois-based startup has been working on technology to eliminate conventional diesel fuel from heavy-duty diesel engines for the past few years by making compression-ignition engines “fuel independent.” ClearFlame aims to leverage existing internal combustion engine technology with low or no carbon fuels such as ethanol and other clean fuels.

In a surprise announcement in mid-September, the company unveiled several development milestones that show its engineering could soon be commonplace in Class 8 trucks and under the hood of agricultural equipment. After all, John Deere made substantial investments in ClearFlame earlier this year.

This compression-ignition power plant looks like millions of other “diesel” engines used around the world, but this one can run on locally produced ethanol. Similar engines will soon be available through longtime engine rebuilder Reviva and serviced through 9 Midwest Vander Haag’s Inc. outlets.

The tractor maker has announced plans to field test the technology on an 8R tractor in late 2022, with additional plans to move the system into harvesters in the future.

The news includes:

  • ClearFlame’s first pilot fleet trial with Class 8 on-road trucks was launched under an agreement with Beck’s Hybrids, the third largest crop seed brand in the United States.
  • First-ever retail E98 ethanol fuel at Central Indiana Ethanol, CountryMark, and Co-Alliance Cooperative outlets for Beck’s fueling partners.
  • An agreement between ClearFlame and Minneapolis-based engine rebuilder Reviva to integrate the new technology into existing Cummins X15 engines, and with Vander Haag’s Inc., to reinstall ClearFlame engines in Class 8 trucks and provide subsequent parts support .

As Farm Equipment Intelligence spent the summer preparing his recently released special report “Alternatives to Fossil Fuels for Agricultural Use,” explained BJ Johnson, CEO of ClearFlame, the use of a fuel such as ethanol in a diesel-type engine requires cylinder head designs capable of higher combustion temperatures and an alcohol-compliant fuel injection system. ClearFlame designs require only 10 to 15 percent of diesel engine parts to be replaced, he says, noting that anyone who can work on today’s diesel engines will be able to work on a ClearFlame engine.

Although hesitant to talk about technical specifics, aside from the company’s use of a traditional diesel engine to the cylinder head, co-founder and chief technology officer Julie Blumreiter says the ethanol system offers the lowest total operating cost compared to diesel. , natural gas, electric and hydrogen platforms.

Additionally, she says, the agreements with Reviva and Vander Haag’s Inc. show the company can use existing diesel engine platforms to quickly bring technology to market for the more than 250,000 mechanics who currently service diesel engines and industries that rely solely on diesel power for their livelihood. .

Blumreiter claims ClearFlame’s cost per mile is expected to be 40% lower than electric and 30% lower than hydrogen alternatives in on-highway trucking applications, and it further offers a cost-effective path to Substantial reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) and tailpipe emissions compared to other carbon-reducing alternatives.

ClearFlame is estimated to offer a 42% carbon reduction over the life cycle, compared to conventional diesel power, as well as approximately 22% lower GHGs than battery electric vehicles based on energy sources. current supply from the national electricity grid.

Ethanol producers and farmers who grow corn and other grains to supply the ethanol industry should welcome these developments, as the largest market for ethanol has been used as a blending feedstock for refineries to meet the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). But that market has been shrinking since 2017 as automotive fuel economy has improved and economic disruption has reduced driving habits in the United States.

The Department of Energy estimated 2021 diesel fuel consumption, most of which was burned in on-road trucking and heavy-duty off-road agriculture, mining and construction applications, at 128 million gallons per day – or about 15% of oil consumption in the United States.

ClearFlame’s technology obviously highlights a huge potential for local fuels around a door that seems to open a new era of “diesel” energy.

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