Diesel engines are critical to the global economy, as data shows more than 99% of all semi-trucks are powered by diesel. At the same time, diesel engines are also nearly universal in heavy-duty equipment for agriculture, construction, and many other applications. Unfortunately, diesel fuel is considered a substantial contributor to the emissions of NOx and CO2 in our environment. Couple that with the fact agriculture is looking hard for alternative uses for corn as ethanol is facing stiff headwinds, might just provide a window of opportunity for an ethanol-powered diesel engine.
ClearFlame Engines, a three-year-old company co-founded by B.J. Johnson and Julie Blumreiter have developed a diesel engine that they say can burn straight ethanol. Johnson, the CEO, received a very warm thank you after sharing this news with the attendees at the recent National Ethanol Conference in Houston, where I’m told he also shared his confidence that even a 20% penetration into the over $230 billion heavy-duty diesel market would easily create 15 billion gallons of demand per year for ethanol.
Performance and the sheer simplicity of the diesel engine are what’s kept alternative cleaner solutions from emerging, but unfortunately, those two items also tie into the dirty emissions issue surrounding diesel engines. Up until now, cleaner alternatives like spark ignition were not able to maintain the performance levels required in many of the heavy-duty operations, meaning the fix to the emission problem wasn’t worth what had to be sacrificed in power.
Clear Flame may have jumped that hurdle as they have been able to burn ethanol in their drop-in diesel-engine-replacement technology, which basically takes the diesel engine design and turns it into a high-temperature combustion system. According to Johnson, they are not fundamentally changing the design, and can now not only reduce fuel costs but eliminate the need for DEF as well as getting ahead of the curve on emission standards. If you don’t think there are real consequences coming, Johnson pointed to the case of truck and engine manufacturer Navistar, who had 77% control of the diesel-engine market until 2009, but when thy failed to meet 2010 emissions regulations from the state of California, market share plummeted by 96%.
Johnson admits one of the biggest hurdles in gaining market access is educating the public about how ethanol can be used in ClearFlame’s technology, which is currently working with Cummins Inc. and Argonne National Laboratory to further develop the technology. Hopes are to roll out a diesel fleet that would have the potential to achieve a 40% reduction in carbon emissions and a $45,000 cost savings. Keep in mind, complicated emissions from diesel require after-treatment systems just to be compliant, and the sector drops an additional $3.3 billion in after-treatment each year. If successful, using ethanol in a diesel engine could save the sector $2.5 billion in after-treatment costs.
Many industry insiders are forecasting a significant drop in annual ethanol demand and at least three dozen ethanol plants could be idled and 40 others operate at reduced rates. This all adds up to the corn industry needing to make some big demand adjustments quickly. I should mention, Clear Flames is actively seeking investors. You can click HERE for more information and to be taken to their website. As with any investment, make certain you fully understand the risk. This space has been extremely volatile as of late so pay close attention. Interesting concept… (Source: TomKat, Stanford, DTN, Clearflame, Herald-Review)