GDiesel: A New Breakthrough in Diesel Fuel
Performs Better, Burns Cleaner
Rolling Stone magazine had a problem back in the 1980s. Even though it had outgrown its Summer of Love origins, most folks thought of it as a rag for addled rock fans. To establish some respectability, the publishers ran a highly successful ad campaign (one that applies to diesel vehicles as well, which we'll get to shortly) with a simple theme: Perception vs. Reality.
The Perception side of the layout showed longhaired hippies waving peace signs in front of a funky Volkswagen microbus. On the Reality side, well-dressed, freshly scrubbed preppies stood proudly by their BMW. The ad copy touted the real Rolling Stone subscriber as an educated, middle-class professional, with lots of discretionary income and upscale aspirations.
Back in the '80s, diesels had a problem as well. Oil burners were dirty and slow, and smoked a lot (but not pot, of course). The current reality is quite different, as diesel technology has improved by leaps and bounds. The best of today's diesel vehicles provide performance and economy that's competitive with gasoline vehicles.
Even so, that old pejorative perception still lingers. But a new type of diesel fuel, called GDiesel, is changing all that. We're not talking about biodiesel made from algae or used french fry oil. And we aren't pointing to some theoretical use of hydrogen or carbon dioxide for energy. Rather, this new type of diesel results from an innovative way of combining conventional diesel and natural gas (hence the "G" in the name). It's not only far cleaner, but also significantly improves performance efficiency, delivering 10 percent or even more miles per gallon, depending on the application.
The inventor of GDiesel is Dr. Rudolf Gunnerman, who has a 40-year background in the development and marketing of energy- and fuel-related technologies. His son Peter is the partner and director of Advanced Refining Concepts (ARC). The firm's ClearRefining process is relatively simple, beginning with the standard ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel that you'd buy at any filling station. This feedstock is first pressurized in a steel tank to less than 10 psi and heated to about 250 degrees F (much lower levels than those required during typical refinery processes). Natural gas, the same stuff used for cooking and heating, is piped into the tank of diesel, and the resulting mixture then swirls up and through a wheel-shaped filter wrapped with four different metal catalysts (cobalt, among others).
As any high-school chemistry student already knows, catalysts are substances that modify and increase the rate of chemical reactions without undergoing any permanent chemical change themselves or being consumed in the process. In the case of GDiesel, they cause the gas molecules to chemically bond with the liquid. This newly formed mix of gas and liquid diesel then flows through a layer of plastic pellets to facilitate condensation, and a heat exchanger for cooling. The final stage to ensure purity involves running the GDiesel through a 15-micron filter.
Without getting overly detailed about the patented ClearRefining catalytic process, it facilitates the attachment of hydrogen in natural gas to the carbon chain of diesel molecules. According to Dr. Gunnerman, the carbon chain of molecules becomes shorter as a result, improving combustion characteristics. As a crude analogy, compare regular diesel to throwing a large chunk of wood on a fire, and GDiesel to smaller wood chips that burn more readily, resulting in cleaner emissions and higher performance.
Pointing to a graphic display chart of fuel composition, Gunnerman notes that the hydrocarbon distribution of conventional #2 diesel is more asymmetric (with taller "peaks" of alkanes), while GDiesel has a more uniform distribution of hydrocarbons (a more rounded shape). What this basically means is that GDiesel has more hydrocarbons with a lower molecular weight (those smaller "chips" that burn better), and fewer components with higher molecular weight (those "chunks" that produce more soot and particulate emissions).
Visually, the appearance of GDiesel is very similar to conventional diesel. During the initial R&D phase of small-scale production, GDiesel looked dramatically clearer than the original diesel feedstock, with the clarity of clean water, but in order to make it easier to identify and handle, that is no longer the case.
ARC has moved well beyond its initial laboratory research on GDiesel in other areas as well. Regarding production volume, the company's Peru Heights refinery, located east of Sparks, Nevada, is now obtaining permits for the recently completed Phase Two. All told, current capacity is 200,000 gallons per day. As of this writing, nearly 19 million gallons of GDiesel have been produced, and is being delivered to 45 active fuel distributors.
Typically the mixing ratio of diesel to natural gas is about 10:1. ARC did see significantly higher volumes of gas being used during the R&D and pilot phases, but it has not yet been able to achieve this at the refinery level. Peter Gunnerman admits that scale-up always changes some parameters.
From a financial standpoint, this slight increase in volume of the fuel (caused by adding the natural gas component), helps to cover operating costs and allows ARC to sell GDiesel at price comparable to standard diesel.
Initially, ARC downplayed GDiesel's potential gains in mileage, focusing instead on its cleaner burning characteristics. That's because the amount of sulfur in GDiesel is about half that of Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel. And the EPA has approved GDiesel as an on-road fuel, and the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection gave it alternative-fuel status.
Based on numerous long-term reports from various users, however, the company is now drawing attention to a number of testimonials about mileage improvements from various fleet users with a variety of diesel engines.
The Churchill County School District in Fallon, Nevada, reports a 12-percent increase in mileage in its buses. Not only that, cold starting is smoother and the exhaust smoke is greatly reduced. (Diesel emissions are a particular concern when transporting children.) A commercial vehicle fleet in Sparks noted an increase in mileage from 1.2 mpg to as high as 4 mpg, along with a big reduction in the black exhaust smoke without any loss in power.
Samuel R. Edgar, director of Tactical Applications for Tier 1 Off-Road Mobility, used GDiesel side-by-side with regular diesel in identical Gen 1 HMMWVs (6.2L V8 diesels, 3L80 transmissions, and 37-inch Goodyear Wrangler MT tires) during training operations for the U.S. Special Operations Command. He recorded both mileage and quantity of fuel and was surprised to find the GDiesel trucks consumed less than half as much fuel per day.
Our own firsthand experience with running several tanks of GDiesel in a Dodge Ram 3500 dualie with a 5.9-liter Cummins showed an increase from 18 mpg to 22 mpg.
Dr. Gunnerman has been running GDiesel in a Mercedes ML350, and also a Humvee with a 6.5-liter Duramax. He reports that the latter vehicle went from burning 8 mpg to as much as 12 mpg on GDiesel. His 2009 Mercedes SUV is EPA rated for 24 mpg on the highway, but on GDiesel, Gunnerman reports getting as high as 36 mpg.
Not surprisingly, GDiesel is becoming the fuel of choice for a variety of municipal and commercial users. It's the exclusive fuel of Clark County and the city of Henderson, Nevada. GDiesel is now becoming more and more available at national trucks stops and retail fueling stations, and through regional fuel distributors. Currently ARC's customer reach is as far east as St. George, Utah, and south to southern Nevada customers like Clark County and the city of Henderson. In the coming months and next year, ARC is planning to construct additional refineries in the Phoenix area as well as in Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC.
GDiesel is currently supplied to government fleets, the Reno/Tahoe International airport, military vehicles, and construction companies. (The IRS has granted it tax-exempt "red diesel" for off-road use.) Various branches of the military actually prefer GDiesel from a tactical aspect, because of its low smoke and lack of smell, to minimize presence of convoys. Its much lower gel point (clouding) is another advantage over conventional diesel.
Given GDiesel's dual benefits as a clean-tech fuel with increased performance efficiency, it would appear to be the next big thing, not only for commercial and municipal fleets, but also diesel enthusiasts in general. Even so, the U.S. market has been much slower to embrace diesels compared with other countries. With GDiesel becoming more widely available, however, this Perception may change to a new Reality.