ClearFlame Engine Technologies, a start-up developing net-zero engine technology (previous post), has announced the release of an independent study that finds ClearFlame’s technology could help fleet owners and other heavy-duty truck operators reduce total costs while achieving sustainability goals sooner than currently available alternatives.
The study was conducted by Gladstein, Neandross & Associates (GNA) and commissioned by ClearFlame, whose investors include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, founded by Bill Gates, John Deere, Mercuria and Clean Energy Ventures.
ClearFlame has developed technology that allows a heavy-duty engine to continue running using MCCI-based combustion when fueled with a wider range of fuels, including ethanol. Historically, clean-burning fuels and those easily made from waste CO2 fluxes or syngas, failed to ignite using MCCI.
ClearFlame’s solution, based on technology developed during doctoral studies at Stanford University and validated with more than $3 million in grant funding, solves this problem by raising combustion temperatures to allow the use of non-traditional fuels without sacrificing performance. In fact, it increases power by 25%.
Because this technology allows the engine to continue to operate on an MCCI diesel-like cycle, the engine retains the high thermal efficiency and torque of traditional diesel engines.
ClearFlame-based engine technology uses MCCI to maintain diesel engine cycle efficiency and torque
Ethanol’s shorter hydrocarbon chains (two carbon atoms compared to diesel’s twelve carbon atoms) reduce or eliminate soot formation under typical engine conditions. The inherent propensity for sooting of ethanol over diesel fuel would allow ClearFlame to operate the engine closer to stoichiometric conditions, allowing the use of three-way catalyst (TWC) after-treatment systems to control the NOX emissions.
TWC systems are lighter and less expensive than SCR systems and do not require the use of diesel emission fluid (DEF), which reduces the capital, operating and maintenance costs of the aftermarket system. treatment.
The ClearFlame system is currently being demonstrated on the Cummins X15 diesel platform through a retrofit strategy that involves modifying certain EGR and intake air components, as well as fuel injectors and other system components fuel.
Modifications to EGR components and airflow
An analysis of the expected emissions performance and total cost of ownership of the ClearFlame business model against the diesel, CNG, BEV and FCV options in the on-highway truck market presented in this document indicates that:
The TCO of ClearFlame-based trucks could be, on average, $0.08 per mile lower than diesel trucks in on-road applications.
The cost per mile of ClearFlame in this application is expected to be significantly lower than the BEV and FCV platforms, primarily due to the high purchase costs of these platforms.
ClearFlame’s technology has the potential to significantly reduce well-to-wheel GHG and tailpipe emissions compared to traditional diesel fuel. ClearFlame is estimated to offer a 42% life cycle carbon reduction compared to diesel, as well as approximately 22% lower GHGs than battery electric vehicles based on the national average grid mix.
The cost per mile of battery-electric and fuel-cell technologies in long-haul trucking is currently high, making technologies like ClearFlame important options for delivering cost-effective GHG and tailpipe emission reductions immediately.
The TCO analysis was conducted when the national diesel fuel average was $3.48 per gallon in October 2021 and found that trucks equipped with ClearFlame would have a lower TCO than diesel by $0.08 per mile , lower than natural gas by $0.09 per mile, lower than electricity by $0.97. per mile, and lower than hydrogen platforms by $0.61 per mile.
The report also highlights the potential for even greater GHG reductions by using other fuel sources developed by the ethanol industry with lower carbon intensities. For example, further improving ethanol production processes, such as using more corn fiber and stalks, or adding carbon capture to production facilities, would result in GHG emission reductions of 69-83% compared to diesel, depending on region.
The report further highlights that ClearFlame can significantly reduce exhaust PM2.5 of 99%, DPM of 100% and SOX 95% compared to traditional diesel fuel. While ClearFlame’s technology is expected to meet the same emissions regulations for modern diesel engines, it is also expected to meet the more stringent standards adopted by California’s Low NOx Heavy-Duty Omnibus regulations and proposed by the US EPA, without the additional costs and complexity of diesel engines.
This study clearly shows that ClearFlame’s technology can provide significant and cost-effective reductions in GHG and tailpipe emissions in the immediate future. While most discussions of sustainable fuels today focus on compressed natural gas, battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, alcohol-based fuels have the potential to play a valuable role in sustainable transportation. ClearFlame’s engine technology and ethanol fueling model could overcome historical barriers to the adoption of ethanol fuels in the heavy-duty market.
—Patrick Couch, GNA study author
The independent study was commissioned by ClearFlame Technologies and conducted by GNA Clean Transportation & Energy Consultants. ClearFlame was permitted to comment on the study protocol and received a report of the results. The results of the study were not impacted apart from the suggestions for clarification.
The model evaluates various platforms in Class 8 on-road applications, a market that is believed to be well suited for ClearFlame technology because vehicle range, weight, fuel costs, fuel availability and travel time refueling are key concerns in this application.
The TCO model estimates the following cost components for each technology: vehicle purchase cost, federal excise tax, state sales tax, vehicle maintenance, vehicle insurance, fuel costs, tax benefits for the depreciation, incentives (RFS and low carbon fuel standard), residual value.
The net cash flow over the useful life of the truck (8 years) is used to calculate the average cost per mile (CPM) for each of the technologies. The average annual mileage for this analysis is 101,000 miles, based on the US EPA MOVES model default for Class 8 long-haul semi-tractors.