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Like a catalytic converter in a bottle

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Scientists say their diesel additive cuts fuel costs and lowers emissions

Using nanotechnology, a group of entrepreneurial scientists has introduced to the marine industry a diesel additive they say helps the fuel burn cleaner and more efficiently.

GO2, Cerion Energy's nanoparticle combustion catalyst, simultaneously increases combustion efficiency while decreasing exhaust emissions, says Kenneth Reed, the Rochester, N.Y., company's chief technology officer. "This is really cutting-edge science," says Reed, 62, a former Eastman Kodak research scientist. "We have very solid statistics across 12 different engine platforms which show that, yes, we are reducing the amount of CO2, which means you're burning less fuel. We are reducing oxides and nitrogen."

Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of materials on an atomic or molecular scale. It deals with dimensions and tolerances of less than 100 nanometers, or 100 billionths of a meter. Cerion has developed 2.5-nanometer nanoparticles that the company says are the world's smallest and most reactive nanoparticle combustion catalysts.

Formed in 2007, Cerion Energy has done extensive testing with CSX Corporation, which burns 750 million gallons of diesel a year, and other large rail companies. Tests are showing an 8 to 13 percent increase in fuel efficiency and a 30 percent decrease in soot emissions. The additive was introduced to the marine industry last fall at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

"The challenge with any product like this is the history of the snake oil that has been sold, whether it's to truckers or marine operators or rail operators," says Cerion Energy CEO and chairman Mick Stadler, who co-founded the company with Reed. "These products claim to do certain things, and they consistently fall down. At the Fort Lauderdale boat show, with the people we talked to, there was a lot of enthusiasm, but I have to believe there was some reservation. They really want to see it to believe it."

And Cerion is working on that. The company's chief investor, Richard Sands, CEO of Constellation Brands Inc., an international producer and marketer of alcoholic beverages, was testing the additive this winter in the twin MTU 1,830-hp diesels of his Pershing 88 in the Florida Keys. "We have approximately 50 hours on the Pershing 88," says Matt Winslow, Cerion vice president of business development, who spoke with Trade Only Jan. 10. "We'll have nothing to report until we have 100 hours of run time. We should achieve that in early spring."

More testing

The next step is to find more recreational boats to validate the product within the yachting crowd, Stadler says. That's where Bruce Brown comes in. Brown is the former chief operating officer of the Newport (R.I.) Shipyard and the former director of operations of Ted Hood's Little Harbor Marine in Portsmouth, R.I.

"It was clear to me immediately how this would benefit the boating industry - leisure boating, that is," says Brown, a longtime friend of Stadler's wife, Joan, who mentioned to Brown that her husband was testing GO2 in commercial workboats. "Yacht owners are very much aware of trying to make their lifestyle greener and leaving less of a carbon footprint, so the timing couldn't be better."

The product's ability to reduce soot should get the attention of manufacturers of boats, engines and generators, Brown says. "With GO2, not only will you be saving fuel, there will be less soot settling on the hull, so there will be lower maintenance and cleaning costs," he says.

The nanoparticles' interaction with the oxygen in the engine combustion chamber results in a more efficient fuel burn, says Reed. "We're liberating oxygen in regions where there's not much oxygen in your combustion chamber - that's where you get soot - and we're taking up oxygen in regions where there's an excess of oxygen and those are the regions that produce oxides and nitrogen," he says.

Other benefits of GO2 include a 5 to 20 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, as much as a 30 percent increase in engine lubricity and a decrease in wear and tear on the engine, according to Brown.

Cerion has completed testing on several commercial boats, including a push boat with twin 600-hp Cummins diesels owned by Omni Marine Services of Harvey, La. A second fuel tank was added to the vessel so one engine could operate on GO2-treated fuel and the other on untreated fuel. The treatment rate was 1 gallon of GO2 per 4,000 gallons of diesel.

Fuel consumption and emissions from both engines were measured using two portable monitoring systems while both engines ran under the same load during light-boat runs in the Harvey Canal. "After the test, it was determined that our fuel usage was down 9 percent as a result of using GO2," says Scott Radosta, vice president of the company.

The success comes as no surprise to Stadler and Reed. "We went through about 20 different formulations," Stadler says. "This was not just simply done by walking into the laboratory and, voila, we had our product. Through science and research we made sure we had a consistent product that would deliver to the marketplace something customers needed and wanted - and that was fuel economy and emissions reduction."

Unorthodox start

The product's development might have been based on calculated step-by-step research, but the formation of the company flew in the face of a textbook startup. Cerion secured the people and its facility - a 200,000-square-foot building in Rochester - before coming up with its final product.

"We're a classic case of a startup company that has broken all the rules," Reed says. "We went through it in an unconventional manner, working with the technology, knowing what we needed to do."

It all started in 2005 when Reed retired from Eastman Kodak, ending a 30-year career at the company. He was a member of the board of trustees at the Rochester Institute of Technology and Stadler was the executive director of the institute's Venture Creations Incubator.

While at Kodak, Reed worked on development of a fuel additive based on cerium dioxide, but for various reasons that effort was not finalized and Kodak began focusing on digital technology, Reed says. "Kodak made the decision that it was not a material science company," Reed says.  "I was intrigued by entrepreneurship, and Stadler and I decided to pursue it because he had a company previously that was working in this area."

'Like a catalytic converter'

Cerium dioxide is used in automobile catalytic converters. It works with platinum and rhodium to convert carbon monoxide into dioxide and reduce "nox," or nitrogen and oxygen, and soot, Reed says.

Cerion's GO2 acts like a catalytic converter, Reed says. "The catalytic converter is a mechanical strategy for taking care of the emissions," he says. "We have a chemical strategy, which says 'Let's move the catalytic converter into the engine,' but we'll do it with nanoparticles in a fuel additive."

Cerion began selling GO2 in September. "We've got purchase orders from a couple of the test partners and some short-line railroads in upstate New York are purchasing product," Stadler says. A workboat in New York Harbor and ferries in Louisiana are now running on GO2, Stadler says.

As the company, which began with six employees and now has 30, continues its sales efforts, it's also working with seven universities to learn more about cerium nanoparticles. Alastair N. Cormack, professor of ceramic engineering at Alfred University in New York, is overseeing research being conducted by two of his students.

"We're trying to understand, on an atomic scale, the processes that make the material work so we can make it work better, make it more efficient," Cormack says.

The research allows the students to help move the technology forward and make an impact in the real world, he says. The university is involved in a state program that requires it to work with businesses on their scientific endeavors, he says.

"This is very exciting," Cormack says. "Cerium seems to be the magic material at the moment."

Can that magic work in gasoline? "Ultimately that's where we are going," Reed says. "We're doing the research on this motor-reactive nanoparticle combustion catalyst with the ultimate goal of helping the gasoline market."

Success hinges on whether the scientists can manipulate the cerium dioxide nanoparticle eight times more than necessary with diesel fuel - a tough task, Reed says. But he has the brainpower behind him to do it.

"I have eight PhDs working under me - chemical engineers, physical chemists, inorganic chemists," he says. "And we have access to some of the world's most sophisticated instruments to analyze what we are doing."

Cerion is looking into distributor arrangements in the recreational marine industry, but since GO2 has been introduced as a commercial-grade product, the company has been selling directly to customers in the commercial marine, rail and construction industries, says Stadler. Cerion has a sales network that covers North America and is currently establishing sales forces in Chile, Brazil, Russia, Europe and China.

GO2 costs $400 per gallon and 1 gallon treats 4,000 gallons of fuel. Cerion's current commercial product configurations are 2-1/2 gallons, 5 gallons and 55-gallon drums. The company expects to introduce quarts ($100) or liters if the market demands it, says Stadler.

Contact: Cerion Energy at (877) 845-5630, Ext. 103. www.cerionenergy.com

This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue.

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