As the world pushes to curb its production of harmful emissions that contribute to global warming, investors, shippers and customers have been increasingly concerned with their own environmental responsibility and that of the companies they do business with.
According to the Governance and Accountability Institute, more than 90% of S&P 500 companies and 70% of Russell 1000 companies now publish some form of sustainability report.
Stakeholders are also using environmental, social and governance metrics to evaluate how seriously a company, like a motor carrier, takes these issues. ESG standards can be a helpful measure to determine if doing business with them is worth the risk.
Fumes emitted by fleets represent a significant portion of the emissions targeted for reduction by these companies. Heavy-duty trucks are significant producers of CO2 and the transportation industry overall is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the U.S.
Commercial trucking firms will need alternative routes to decarbonize if they want to stay on track with current and future customer requirements.
This is why it’s in the favor of trucking companies to set and follow high internal ESG standards, but, for some, it is easier said than done when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.
Diesel fuel has been widely used in the trucking industry since the 1950s, and its persistent ubiquitous use today continues to produce harmful air pollutants and affect both the climate and human health. Even with ultra-low sulfur diesel required of all vehicles produced in 2007 or later, it will be a while before these older engines will completely go away.
Alternative fuel sources that are better for the environment are being used on a small scale, like hydrogen and electric, but many fleets can’t afford the investment to make the switch.
With operating costs elevated, the question hanging over every fleet is how it can reduce its carbon emissions quickly and economically in order to both reach its ESG goals and compete in a sustainability-focused marketplace.
One company, ClearFlame Engine Technologies, is proving companies don’t need to choose between their bottom lines and hitting ESG targets.
ClearFlame is cleaning up existing assets through engine modification to decrease fleets’ carbon footprints, while at the same time saving them money on operating costs and offering the same performance drivers are used to.
The company’s solution is this: It removes diesel from diesel engines through heavy-duty compression ignition engine modification, allowing trucks to run on a wide range of clean-burning, plant-based renewable fuels.
This means engines can run on fuel like ethanol, methanol or ammonia, which are all produced widely, available globally and offer reduced emissions and lower cost than traditional fossil fuels.
The company’s first application of its model was using 100% fuel-grade ethanol, not a blend, in a modified engine of a Class 8 truck.
“For fleets based in the U.S., ethanol is a natural choice, given the abundance of the fuel and the fact that ethanol is on a path to net zero,” said Kirk Roller, chief operating officer at ClearFlame.
Ethanol in particular offers several advantages: It’s sustainable, over 15 billion gallons are produced in the U.S. each year and it doesn’t require significant investments in refueling infrastructure.
“Because ClearFlame’s solution is based on liquid fuel, the cost of upgrading fueling storage at a customer site is much lower than a leap to hydrogen, EV or even natural gas,” Roller said.
According to an independent study conducted by Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, and commissioned by ClearFlame, the company’s solution can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 42% compared to diesel, and fleets can also enjoy significant savings.
The study’s pricing model demonstrates motor carriers can reduce their total cost of ownership (TCO) per mile by 30 cents by switching to ClearFlame’s ethanol-powered engines. This means many could recoup the price of engine modification in under a year.
The study further affirmed that the TCO with ClearFlame is less than any other option currently available, including engines running on diesel, natural gas, electric and hydrogen.
While achieving emissions targets and lowering operating costs are high priorities for fleets, it won’t help their bottom lines if clean engines can’t effectively replicate the performance of traditional diesel-powered ones. With ClearFlame, that’s not a problem. Its clean engines match the torque of diesel-powered engines, allowing them to sustain the power that drivers are accustomed to.
Current diesel mechanics or technicians can work on ClearFlame engines with little additional training. Eighty percent of the engine remains the same after modification, demonstrating its practicality for all fleets, not just those with specialized mechanics.
ClearFlame’s path ahead to commercial release is a short one. For the last several years, it ran its technology in test cells. In 2022, it started accumulating miles. It anticipates that the several fleets running its pilot trucks will log 500,000 miles before commercial release in early 2024.
“Meeting corporate and customer ESG goals are critical drivers for many fleets investing in future technologies. ClearFlame can simultaneously support these sustainability targets with immediate carbon reductions and cost savings. In other words, fleets can be green while saving green,” Roller said.