The Van Trump Report

ClearFlame Tech Lets Diesel Engines Run on E98

Diesel engines are critical to the global economy, powering more than 99% of all semi-trucks and serving as the universal default in heavy-duty equipment for agriculture, construction, and many other industries. For the last five years, the founders of ClearFlame Engine Technologies have been looking for a way to clean up these workhorses of modern industry while leveraging existing infrastructure. The solution they’ve arrived at is the diesel engine, sans the diesel fuel. The company just road-proved its technology using a Class 8 diesel truck burning E98 ethanol.

ClearFlame says they chose ethanol because it is widely available and a relatively low-cost alternative. However, the company calls its technology “fuel agnostic” as it will work with various renewable fuels. The company reports that the test truck, equipped with a fairly common Cummins X15 500hp 15L heavy-duty engine, witnessed no loss of performance. The key difference is a dramatic reduction in harmful greenhouse gas emissions, which ClearFlame claims are slashed by at least 40% using its technology.

Co-founders B.J. Johnson and Julie Blumreiter first developed the technology while earning their Ph.D.’s at Stanford University. At the time, Julie’s research focused on energy systems and transportation engines, and BJ’s research focused on the combustion of low-soot alternative fuels. Realizing the intersection of their work, they teamed up to develop technology that would eventually lead to the ClearFlame “Clear Combustion” process.

The patented technology basically insulates the diesel engine, allowing it to run at the higher temperatures required to ignite alternative fuels like ethanol. “We don’t have to wait for expansion of infrastructure for our technology to be adopted,” Johnson says. “We also don’t have to wait for entirely new power trains. We are not reinventing the wheel and rebuilding the engine from the ground up. We can start with the engines that are already out there today.”

The technology can be retrofitted into existing older diesel engines or applied to new engines that have yet to be installed in trucks or used in other industrial applications. ClearFlame is aiming to work directly with the engine manufacturer, which will still give the company access to the secondary market because every OEM has its own aftermarket parts group, Johnson told TechCrunch. And while the converted engines can use other fuels, the company says it is focused on ethanol in particular because it is cheaper than diesel, which will give trucking companies a greater incentive to convert their engines. ClearFlame says it will continue testing its trucks under various operating conditions throughout Q1 2022, with customer beta testing underway by the end of 2022.

ClearFlame and John Deere late last year announced plans to test the technology in Deere equipment. Johnson says they are modifying a 9-liter John Deere engine to run on decarbonized liquid fuel like ethanol and plan to test the engine in the field later this year. Field test validation will take a couple of years. John Deere has also invested in ClearFlame, participating in a $17 million in Series A financing that closed in November.  

Other notable investors include the Bill Gates-owned Breakthrough Energy Ventures, commodity trader Mercuria, and Clean Energy Ventures. The company has also landed several million dollars in grant money, including Small Business Innovation Research awards from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas and Illinois Corn Growers Associations. (Sources: TechCrunch, Diesel Progress, DTN)

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