A big worry for American farmers is whether the E10 (10% ethanol) blend wall will restrict development of ethanol production. But Bob Dickey, president of the National Corn Growers Association and farmer from Laurel, NE, isn't sweating it. He and three partners have formed CleanFlex, a company that has devised a way to efficiently use ethanol in diesel engines.

For the record, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requires 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022, which many say is unlikely to happen with the EPA limit of 10% ethanol in current gasoline blends.

Dickey says their company, CleanFlex, has developed a new hydrated-ethanol fuel called EM60 (a mixture of 60% ethanol and 40% water) that combines in a delivery system with diesel fuel to power diesel engines.

Dickey used the new fuel for the first time last year on a John Deere 150-hp four-cylinder turbo diesel irrigation system engine. “It worked surprisingly well. It increased engine efficiency and decreased emissions, and that's what it's all about,” he says. “It even saved us $1-1.20 an hour over regular diesel.”

The system requires the use of two separate tanks to deliver the fuel, one for the ethanol-water mixture and one for diesel. The two come together at the point of combustion, says Kevin Kenney, biofuels systems engineer for CleanFlex, who has been involved in biofuels research since the 1980s and started work on this project in 2004.

Research has also been conducted at the University of Nebraska under a two-year grant, says Loren Isom, technical assistant coordinator for the University of Nebraska Industrial Agricultural Products Center. “In general, the addition of ethanol has reduced NOx emissions. However, we're only part way through the grant and we'll have a more complete report soon.”

Isom points out that fumigating an alternative fuel through the air intake isn't a new concept, but new methods to deliver and control fuel flow rates in an effort to reduce emissions is a new twist.

Besides the plus of being able to use the glut of excess ethanol on the market right now, EM60 also has the ability to help meet Tier 4 emission standards that become effective in 2011, says Ron Preston, president of CleanFlex Power Systems LLC.

Preston lists other benefits of EM60 as:

  • Reduces NOx and particulate matter, which contribute to global warming.

  • Burns cooler with less heat and friction for longer engine life.

  • Adds lubricity to engines, and increases horsepower and engine efficiency.

  • Provides a long storage life that's useable in all weather conditions, even at temperatures down to -100° F.

The fuel and retrofit can be purchased now, and CleanFlex is already marketing it. They think the potential for use could be staggering for any diesel engine, especially those needing to meet EPA Tier 4 emission standards.

They're currently working with agricultural equipment companies as well as railroad companies to supply fuel. Preston says the market is immense with over 60 million diesel engines operating in the U.S., plus the opportunity with government fleets, especially military vehicles.

Preston estimates the cost to retrofit an engine to accommodate the new fuel will run about $5,000. But nearly all older diesel engines will probably need some modifications if they are to meet Tier 4 standards, he says.

“Getting product (fuel) will be an issue, but getting biodiesel was an issue in the beginning, too,” Preston says, who adds that the EM60 fuel can safely be used with B2 or B5 biodiesel.

For more information, contact CleanFlex Power Systems at 402-480-0346.