Deere Invests in Ethanol Diesel Engine

ClearFlame Secures $17 Million to Commercialize Ethanol Diesel Engine Tech

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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John Deere is among a group of investors in ClearFlame Engine Technologies, which is developing a heavy-duty truck engine that can run on straight ethanol. (Photo courtesy of ClearFlame Engines)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Count John Deere among the companies investing in a startup company developing a heavy-duty truck engine able to run on straight ethanol. ClearFlame Engine Technologies announced Thursday it had secured another $17 million in funding from several companies, including the agriculture-industry stalwart.

The funding is expected to enable commercialization of the company's engine technology for the long-haul trucking, agriculture and power generation sectors, ClearFlame said in a news release on Thursday. The financing was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures with participation from John Deere, commodity trader Mercuria and Clean Energy Ventures.

The engine, still in the demonstration phase of development, 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."

The company said it achieved the results on a Cummins X15, a 500-horsepower, 15-liter heavy-duty engine using the company's high-temperature stochiometric combustion process. The process leverages higher temperatures to achieve diesel-style combustion of any decarbonized fuel.

Previously, ClearFlame has 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.

John Deere said in a separate news release on Thursday that its investment in ClearFlame was "in line with its strategic vision to accelerate and lead the industry in low- and zero-carbon" powertrain technology.

In addition, John Deere said it will supply an engine to use in conceptual testing, which will "help validate the technology" currently under development by ClearFlame.

"We made this investment to stay on the leading edge of developments in renewable fuel technology," said Pierre Guyot, senior vice president of John Deere Power Systems.

"ClearFlame's compression ignition engine technology has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions while continuing to provide the performance and durability our customers expect from John Deere engines. Compression ignition engines have a long life ahead -- in terms of both the current source of diesel and a wide variety of alternative fuel types. John Deere already offers biomass-based diesel compatibility on our engines. These investments are the right thing to do for environmental, economic and rural-development benefits."

Mercuria Energy Managing Director Boris Bystrov said in a statement the investment in ClearFlame matches his company's goals.

"As one of the world's largest commodities traders, Mercuria was an early adopter of bringing environmental products, including ethanol, into its trading portfolio," Bystrov said.

"Mercuria biofuel refining enables Mercuria to directly manage quality, supply and price risk. Mercuria's strategic investment in ClearFlame's technology complements its continued commitment to biofuels as part of the energy transition."

ClearFlame Engines CEO B.J. 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 has the ability to 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.

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.

The ClearFlame engine is the only diesel engine that would meet California regulations on reductions in nitrous oxide emissions, Johnson said, and ethanol would help the state accomplish that goal.

Read more here: "Company Advances Ethanol Diesel Engine," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

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

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Todd Neeley