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Internal Combustion... The Most Environmentally Friendly Engines?

Good morning innovators, change-makers, and entrepreneurs.


This newsletter and podcast feature stories about the people – past, present and future – who change the world.  They make decisions and take actions enlivened by what I call The Entrepreneur’s Ethic.  The Entrepreneur’s Ethic infuses people, organizations and places where the future is created, and the world is made a better place.

One of the Entrepreneurs featured in my upcoming book, The Entrepreneur’s Ethic, is Henry Ford. There are seven parts of The Entrepreneur’s Ethic. Ford’s work exemplifies Ethic 2: Solve Hard Problems. This is the priority setting-orientation of entrepreneurship. It tackles the profound question of “what should I work on?”

One of things Henry Ford had to develop to make an automobile for the masses was a reliable internal combustion engine. Its 4-cylinder, 20 horsepower engine possessed simplicity, reliability, and ease of repair that were key factors in the Model T's enormous success and its impact on the automotive industry.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk has famously innovated electric engines at Tesla, but other entrepreneurs are at work creating clean technologies for transportation. This week’s podcast is with one of them, Dr. BJ Johnson, CEO and co-founder at ClearFlame Engine Technologies. We talk about his design of a sustainable diesel engine with the capability to reach net-zero emissions and even reverse greenhouse gases to yield a negative balance in carbon emissions while reducing the costs of long-haul trucking for fleets large and small. ClearFlame’s goal is to convert the more than 3 million diesel trucks on the road today and turn them into clean-burning engines. To date, ClearFlame’s investor base includes the Department of Energy, Mercuria, Clean Energy Ventures and Breakthrough Energy Ventures.


I enjoyed the conversation with BJ, and I know you will too.


Good Reads




My techno-optimism – Vitalik Buterin


Three Things I Think (I Think)


BJ Johnson is building his business in the Midwest, but the first work on the technologies were in Palo Alto, California while he completed his PhD at Stanford. He noted in our conversation that the decision to pursue a startup rather than a more conventional career path was made easier because he was in Silicon Valley, a place with entrepreneurial risk-taking deeply sewn into its culture. But listen carefully to him and you’ll pick up important nuances about the decision to start a business.


1. I think starting with a big opportunity helps – He notes that his work at Stanford led to knowledge that the technology that’s become ClearFlame had compelling economic and environmental value propositions. It’s cheaper to operate equipment using the technology and emissions are clean. Entrepreneur’s Ethic #2: Solve Hard Problems!

2. I think embracing uncertainly is necessary. Conventional wisdom was that the diesel engine market was no place for innovators. But conventional wisdom is so… conventional. There’s enormous uncertainly launching a business that aims to sell new hardware into a fragmented market, but if you navigate the edge of what you know and what the world knows, there are rewards. Entrepreneur’s Ethic #6: Enjoy the Edge!

3. I think principled decision-making helps overcome challenges. He cites as a principled decision, the choice to use ethanol as the fuel for ClearFlame technology. Most from Midwestern agriculture view the opportunity to use ethanol in clean burning engines as an alternative to 60 billion gallons of petroleum-based diesel fuel each year as a good thing, but the politics of ethanol are… complicated. He understood the trajectory of innovation in and around ethanol and the fit with ClearFlame’s long term goals. Ethic #1: Make Things Happen! 


Farm to My Table


Pork tenderloin breaded, fried, and used between buns is one way to do it. But recently, we tried another way with a tenderloin from Farm Story Meats. Smoked pork tenderloin, open-face on bread, with horseradish aioli and apple-pear-pepper jam from our orchard and garden.


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