By Michele F. Mihaljevich
ATLANTA, Ind. – Beck’s is working with an Illinois-based company to test technology that allows a modified a Cummins over-the-road diesel engine to run on nearly 100 percent ethanol.
The technology developed by ClearFlame Engine Technologies decarbonizes heavy duty diesel combustion engines by enabling the use of any biofuel, including E98 (98 percent ethanol), as truck fuel, according to Beck’s.
The modification is in the form of a retrofit kit installed in a truck that Beck’s drivers are using on short haul routes across Indiana, said Brad Fruth, Beck’s director of innovation.
In addition to Beck’s, ClearFlame is working with an Indiana ethanol fuel coalition – Central Indiana Ethanol, CountryMark and Co-Alliance Cooperative – on the project. Central Indiana Ethanol is serving as manufacturer, CountryMark as distributor, and Co-Alliance as the fuel retailer.
“(ClearFlame) supplied the truck, we’re putting a bunch of miles on it,” Fruth explained. “Ethanol is plentiful within our marketing area. We saw the technology about two years ago. We were very excited about it. We hear talk about electrification. This technology helps companies to meet their environmental goals. They don’t have to go to electrification to meet those goals.”
Beck’s will test the truck a few more weeks, he said. Two of the company’s drivers are taking part. ClearFlame will gather data from the truck and will also ask the drivers about such things as how the truck accelerated and if it performed similarly to its diesel counterpart.
As of press time, the truck – including the fuel system – hadn’t given the drivers any major problems, Fruth noted.
He said Beck’s decided to participate because it wanted to evaluate the technology. That same technology could also benefit farmers, Fruth pointed out. “We think it’s going to continue to bolster demand for ethanol and for corn. Anything we can do to help drive demand for ethanol in trucks helps drive demand for row crops. We think that’s important. There are no better renewable sources than ones grown by U.S. farmers.”
Belinda Puetz, CountryMark’s director of marketing, said there were some obstacles to overcome before the pilot project could move forward.
E98 is not an approved fuel, so ClearFlame had to apply to the U.S. EPA for an exemption, which was granted, she said. The proper amount of federal and state taxes to be remitted had to be determined, as gasoline and ethanol are taxed differently, Puetz noted. Participants also had to confirm the approved range of the amount of ethanol in the fuel.
“This is 100 percent corn ethanol,” she explained. “We at CountryMark are eager to be involved in the test pilot because of the benefits it brings to Midwestern corn farmers. It’s a great place for us to be. We in the industry recognize there’s been so much talk about battery vehicles. We hear the cry of how can we see a big energy transformation. But vehicles such as over the road trucks (OTR) are not well suited for batteries. The public wants to know what agriculture is doing, what OTR’s are doing, to reduce their energy impact.
“We’re really driven by the opportunity to do something good for corn farmers. This is a technology that can compete with electric vehicles. We’re eager to see the results for the pilot project.”
ClearFlame said it expects to achieve commercialization of its engine modification technology by the end of next year.
“The speed and agility with which the Indiana ethanol fuel coalition was able to come together to provide E98 fuel to our truck with Beck’s goes even further to underscore how easy it will be for ClearFlame’s technology to rapidly scale for fleets across the country,” BJ Johnson, ClearFlame’s co-founder and CEO, said in a release. “Ethanol is already distributed through fuel terminals nationwide. In addition to being widely available, it’s proven to be a much greener fuel, with substantially lower carbon emissions than diesel, and critically, significant cost savings.”
The cost per mile for ClearFlame-enabled vehicles is expected to be 40 percent less than electric platforms and 30 percent less than hydrogen, according to an independent study completed earlier this year. The report from Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, clean transportation consultants, also found the total cost of ownership is expected to be lower than diesel, natural gas, electric and hydrogen platforms.