Exactly what is Cascade Sierra Solutions? It's not as if the name really says anything about trucks, fuel or emissions. Yet that's exactly what this nonprofit organization aims to do: help truckers, especially smaller fleets and owner-operators, save money on fuel and cut emissions of harmful particulates and greenhouse gases.

This week, I listened to Sharon Banks explain the group to potential investors and other interested parties via a conference call sponsored by the investment researchers at Stifel Nicolaus.

Banks is the founder and CEO of Cascade Sierra Solutions. She has 16 years experience in governmental finance at the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency, an air quality agency in Lane County, Ore. There she launched the Everybody Wins program to finance idle reduction upgrades for heavy-duty diesel trucks. In 2006, she formed CSS as a non-profit organization to expand the program.

Expand it has. Idle reduction is still a major focus, but the group also helps out in areas such as add-on aero aids and other mpg improvers, emissions retrofits, alternative fuels and more.

It does this in three ways:

* Education and outreach. There are eight "outreach centers" where CSS showcases technologies and works with fleets. Most are on the West Coast, but there's one in Charleston, S.C., and one soon to open in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

* Financial incentives. CSS administers grants and loans to subsidize costs of upgrading or converting trucks to cleaner-burning, more fuel-efficient technologies.

* Access to non-biased information about new technologies and best practices.

Improving efficiency

Banks said Cascade Sierra Solutions works to improve efficiency of existing trucks in these ways:
* Identify emerging technologies
* Execute truck replacement programs
* Implement alternative fueling infrastructure
* Provide truckstop electrification

Putting the average fuel efficiency of a heavy-duty truck at 5.9 mph, she said, "We have significant experience upgrading trucks, and we have some fleets that are getting over 10 mpg with some of their trucks, on regular diesel, which many thought was impossible." The group does this with a combination of equipment changes (such as EPA SmartWay tires and trailer skirts) and driver training and incentives.

Cascade Sierra Solutions also has several programs around the ports, many of which have put "clean truck" programs in place that ban older, higher-polluting trucks and/or provide incentives to switch to newer, more environmentally friendly technology.

"We execute a lot of truck replacement programs, where owner-operators and small fleets are given an incentive to purchase a new, clean fuel-efficient vehicle. We have these in Tacoma, Seattle, all of California, certain areas of Texas, four ports on the East Coast, and in Charleston."

A recent initiative that goes back to CSS's idle-reduction roots is the Shorepower Truck Electrification Project, or STEP, funded by a $20 million grant from the Department of Energy and another $29.5 million private sector matching funds. The STEP project is a joint effort between Cascade Sierra Solutions and Shorepower Technologies, which provides the plug-in units. STEP is installing truck electrification hookups at 50 locations on five major Interstate corridors.

And with all the interest in natural gas, CSS is involved there, as well. Banks offered Vedder Transport as an example of a fleet Cascade Sierra Solutions has worked with. Based in British Columbia, Canada, Vedder invested in 50 Peterbilt Model 386 trucks running on liquefied natural gas to haul dairy between the U.S. and Canada. The 300-truck/1,000-trailer dry and liquid bulk hauler is able to haul in its own fuel, for about 70 cents per diesel gallon equivalent. "Even though the trucks are more expensive, they're finding a nice rate of return on that investment," Banks said.

Why trucks?

Why trucks? "Trucks burn 20,000 to 25,000 gallons of fuel a year, so we can make a very, very appreciable impact by developing a best practice for their business," Banks said. "We preserve our quality life and an essential industry, which is trucking. A new truck can reduce emissions by about 85% in diesel particulate compared to the older truck it replaces."

To date, Cascade Sierra Solutions has:
* Upgraded or replaced more than 11,000 trucks
* Garnered more than $45 million in grants to help truckers
* Provided more than $54 million in financing
* Educated truckers on best practices to save fuel and reduce emissions
* Is in the process of installing 1,250 electrified truck spaces on five major freight corridors

In short, if you're interested in learning more about using less fuel and spewing less pollution, Cascade Sierra Solutions might be a place to start.


Related Stories:

8/17/2011 Oregon Truckstop First of 50 to Offer Shore Power through Government Program

2/10/2011 New Program Aims to Jump-Start Truckstop Electrification