Deere pairs with start-up to swap diesel for ethanol in its engines

Source: By Herb Trix, Radio Iowa • Posted: Sunday, January 2, 2022

ClearFlame co-founders Julie Blumreiter and BJ Johnson (ClearFlame photo)

Iowa’s largest manufacturing employer is partnering with a Chicago-area company to reduce harmful emissions from its equipment by replacing diesel fuel with ethanol.

Quad Cities-based John Deere is working with ClearFlame Engine Technologies of Geneva, Illinois, where CEO B.J. Johnson says their initial work was on a Cummins X-15 engine from an on-road semi.

“The partnership with Deere and the investment from Deere is going to allow us to move that over to one of their engine platforms, to use across a range of applications like agriculture and construction, do an engine demo with them,” Johnson says, “and then towards the end of next year ideally translate that into an actual field demo of the technology on a piece of equipment.”

The goal will be to migrate the technology into tractors, combines, excavators and other heavy equipment. Johnson says the next step is for Deere to supply an engine that’s used in a range of its equipment, which ClearFlame will modify in its lab.

“It changes only about 10 or 15% of the parts of the engine. The largest change is just making the fuel injection system compatible with a different fuel, like ethanol, and the rest of it is optimizing the engine to run at a higher temperature,” Johnson says. “Basically, if you get a diesel engine to run a little bit hotter, then you’re freed to use a whole wider range of fuels.”

Johnson says using corn-based ethanol instead of diesel can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 45 to 50 percent, with even bigger reductions possible in the future. The word “burning” doesn’t always have to be bad, Johnson says, as it depends on what you’re burning.

“If you’re burning a fossil fuel, yes, that is absolutely bad, but we’ve got liquid fuels today that are 50% cleaner than that because they come from renewable sources,” Johnson says, “and the Renewable Fuels Association has a goal to get to carbon-neutral ethanol by 2035.”

Johnson says this research could help boost the rural economy, especially in Iowa, the nation’s number-one ethanol producer. Today, the U.S. is producing about 17 billion gallons of ethanol a year, and every one-percent of trucks converted to burning ethanol can result in the need to produce another billion gallons of the fuel.

(Herb Trix, WVIK, Rock Island)