“And, also, when we talk to fleets about would they rather manage a slightly larger tank or just fuel a little bit more frequently, your typical diesel truck will have about a 1,200-mile range. Having to refill at 700 miles isn’t bothering most fleets. And those that do can again just carry a little bit larger tank.”
When it comes to power, torque and all performance metrics farms have grown to expect from a diesel engine, Johnson said the ClearFlame technology has been able to maintain those characteristics.
ClearFlame uses a different fuel-injection system and a higher temperature-combustion process, he explained. “And when you marry those two things together, we’re finally able to show you can get all of those same exact diesel performance parameters that you expect.”
ETHANOL CARBON REDUCTION
The role ethanol can play in an overall carbon-reduction strategy has been largely overlooked by the Biden administration, which is pushing for expansion of electric vehicles.
President Joe Biden’s 2050 climate action plan is banking on what electrification and hydrogen can do for the transportation sector.
However, Johnson said the administration also expects more CO2 reduction in transportation to come from low-carbon fuels than it is from either electric vehicles or hydrogen, as part of that plan.
Replacing diesel fuel with ethanol could lead to a gigaton of carbon reduction in the U.S., he said.
Currently, U.S. ethanol producers have the capacity to produce about 17 billion gallons per year — or just about 11% of what it could take to replace diesel with ethanol.
“No one can say that fuels like ethanol don’t have a role to play,” Johnson said. “That is a staggering number that would be like getting rid of 90 billion gallons of diesel fuel. Take what that means for ethanol. That’s about 150 billion gallons of ethanol. The market potential here is absolutely massive.”
Johnson said he hears many questions about the viability of ethanol as an economy-wide carbon-reducing fuel when compared to the future of electric vehicles.
When it comes to ethanol, the data is unmistakable: Its overall carbon-intensity score is equal to — if not better than — electric vehicles as things stand today, he said.
A lot of environmental groups are asking whether enough ethanol can be produced to replace diesel-burning engines.
“That’s actually one of the big misconceptions that I run into when I say we run our truck on E98,” Johnson said.
“People say you can’t get that fuel. I think there’s some sort of misconception that ethanol comes out of ethanol plants as E10 or something like that. As you all know, the economics of ethanol are very competitive, and also a reduction in carbon emissions that is comparable to that of an electric vehicle, and this has been validated by a lot of groups out there,” Johnson said.
In particular, the likes of Harvard University, Tufts University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have found ethanol to have a 45% to 50% reduction in CO2 relative to fossil fuels.
“So, it’s not perfect, and I don’t think we should be out there conveying that we think ethanol is a perfect fuel, but it is very similar to the level of carbon reduction that you get from switching to an electric vehicle today, because the grid isn’t perfect either,” Johnson said.
Though electric vehicles are considered by environmental groups and others to be the future of all transportation, Johnson said there generally is agreement that long-haul freight trucks are unlikely to move away from liquid fuels soon.
“So, people will kind of argue a little bit over how quickly something like these trucks can electrify,” he said.
“The same argument exists in passenger cars, of course. I do believe that electrification is a when, not if, but I think it’s important to remember that when is really sector dependent.”
Though many ethanol industry representatives are eager to go on the attack of electric vehicles, Johnson said ethanol needs to continue to improve its performance in response to the EV challenge.
“I don’t think taking a run at EVs is a viable strategy,” he said. “Yes, it’s true they pitch themselves as emissions-free when they’re not because the grid is not clean. All those things are true, but at the end of the day, they have a chance to improve their product, they deserve that chance. The ethanol sector can complement that opportunity.”
In some circles, the view is ethanol is a fuel that can be converted into even less-carbon-intensive fuels, including renewable diesel.
“ClearFlame is saying that’s just the wrong strategy for this market,” he said.
“Take the engine and modify it so that you guys don’t have to worry about making some other fuel.”
Johnson said his company continues to face several narratives when presenting its technology to various companies and others.
Ethanol has the opportunity to eliminate the notion that moving to green technologies comes at a premium price.
“The world already knows we need low-carbon liquid fuels,” he said. “They just don’t realize that ethanol is a good low-carbon liquid fuel and that it can be used in those applications that need the liquid fuels the most. And this is a sector that has been playing defense for a really long time.
“But I think there is an opportunity to go on the offensive here. If we’re serious about our climate goals, you need this fuel and you need to listen to this story.”
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @DTNeeley
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