An engine technology that uses plant-based fuels such as ethanol to power heavy-duty trucks can cut more emissions, help operators reach sustainability goals sooner, and lower costs more than other methods available, according to a study.
The study by Gladstein, Neandross & Associates and commissioned by ClearFlame Engine Technologies, analyzed the total cost of ownership (TCO) and expected emissions performance of ClearFlame’s engine modification system. The study estimates the technology can cut the overall carbon emissions of the life of a truck by 42% compared with diesel and lower greenhouse gas emissions by 22% compared to battery electric vehicles.
The report also finds that electric and hydrogen platforms have the potential to provide zero tailpipe emissions. Although efforts by companies like WattEV to increase the use of electric heavy-truck fleets and infrastructure, and the Department of Energy’s view of electric being cheaper than diesel by 2035, lagging fuel and charging systems and the cost per mile of operations is seen as a significant barrier to transitions, according to the report.
A separate report by Fitch found road freight transportation still has work to do in mitigating sustainability risks and the clearest path is switching to biofuels and hydrogen, which could lower emissions by 20% through 2050.
That means technologies such as ClearFlame’s can provide more immediate emissions and cost reductions, according to Gladstein, Neandross & Associates. The engine technology allows heavy-duty trucks to operate using a diesel-like cycle but with other fuels, such as ethanol.
The ethanol technology report also says there is potential for greater greenhouse gas emissions reductions using other feed sources developed through the ethanol industry that could produce lower carbon intensity. Improving production processes, for example, like using more corn fiber and stover, and adding carbon capture to production facilities could result in emissions reductions of 69% to 83% compared with diesel.
Several operations in the midwestern United States have used ethanol production to develop carbon capture and permanent sequestration. That includes one of the world’s largest such projects by Summit Carbon Solutions that has commitments from 31 facilities to deliver more than 8 million metric tons per annum of carbon dioxide.
The Gladstein, Neandross & Associates analysis was conducted in October 2021 when diesel’s national average price was $3.48 per gallon. It found trucks using the technology would have a lower cost per mile of 8 cents compared with diesel, 9 cents lower than natural gas, 97 cents lower than electric, and 61 cents lower than hydrogen platforms.
ClearFlame says its technology is expected to meet the same emissions regulations for modern diesel engines, including the stricter standards being enacted by California’s Low NOx Heavy-Duty Omnibus Regulation, as well as additional regulations by the EPA.
Ethanol, which is also a key biofuel piece of developing sustainable aviation fuels, was the third most used road transportation fuel used in the US in 2021, according to the Energy Information Administration.