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Company Receives $3 Million Financing on Ethanol-Diesel Technology

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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ClearFlame Engines secured $3 million in financing continue developing a diesel engine that runs on ethanol. (DTN file photo)

ClearFlame Engine Technologies closed on a $3 million initial round of financing from Clean Energy Ventures, along with other investors to help accelerate the development of a diesel engine that can run on ethanol, according to a news release from Clean Energy Ventures based in Boston.

The technology has the ability to cut CO2 emissions from diesel engines by about 90%, as well as create a market for ethanol.

ClearFlame recently completed a proof-of-concept demonstration on a Caterpillar engine at Argonne National Laboratory and is preparing for a commercial prototype demonstration on a Cummins 15L engine, according to the news release.

Daniel Goldman, managing director of Clean Energy Ventures, said in a statement the ClearFlame engine will have many applications including in agriculture.

"The global market for low emissions engine technology is growing at an extraordinary rate due to the limitations of electricity-based options in long-haul use cases," he said.

"ClearFlame's innovative technology has the potential to reduce well over 5 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and to disrupt freight transportation and other hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as construction, mining, agriculture and distributed power generation."

The funding will help ClearFlame prepare its technology for pilot demonstrations in the transportation and power-generation sectors.

ClearFlame previously received a more than $2-million grant from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the USDA, the Midwest Energy Research Consortium, and Stanford University.

Company founder Chief Executive Officer B.J. Johnson presented the technology to attendees at the National Ethanol Conference in Houston back in February.

Johnson said even an optimistic 20% market penetration into the $231 billion heavy-duty diesel market would in itself create 15 billion gallons of demand for ethanol per year.

"Ethanol burns more efficient than diesel," he said during the conference.

"Why has it not happened? Ethanol is considered a gasoline additive. The solution? Get ethanol to burn in a diesel application. We're able to get a diesel engine to burn ethanol. We take the diesel engine design and implement it into a high-temperature combustion system.

"We're not fundamentally changing the design. No one has to give up the diesel-engine design. This is running on straight ethanol."

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.

All the while, the ClearFlame engine has 30% more torque than engines running on diesel.

The diesel sector spends about $3.3 billion in after-treatment each year. Using ethanol in a diesel engine could save the sector $2.5 billion in after-treatment costs, Johnson said.

Although gasoline demand is expected to decrease in the next 20 years, he said demand for diesel is expected to remain high. In addition, he said the price of ethanol is expected to remain low relative to diesel prices for decades to come.

Johnson said the technology could help the ethanol industry gain even greater access to markets in states like California, which plans aggressive measures to reduce smog-producing emissions by as much as 90% in years to come. In addition, the technology can dramatically reduce soot emissions.

The company has about two to three years of demonstrations to complete, starting in 2021. Johnson said ClearFlame plans to scale up the technology in 2026 or 2027 and hopes to sign a license agreement with an engine manufacturer.

Johnson and co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Julie Blumreiter are graduates of Stanford University, and started ClearFlame based on work from their dissertations. The Chicago-based company received $25,000 in seed money from Ag Startup Engine at Iowa State University Research Park in 2019.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow me on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN

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