Green beer? No, not the food-coloring adulterated suds served on St. Paddy’s Day, but green in the sense that the brewer makes every effort to minimize its environmental footprint from the first steps of the brewing process, to the delivery of chilled brews to distributors throughout California. While most top beverage producers strive to make their operations green, Sierra Nevada Brewing of Chico, Calif. takes green to a whole new level.
Many in the beverage market see the strongest motivation for greening operations coming from customers and the regulatory community, but at Sierra Nevada, internal forces are the key motivator. “Our motivation comes from Sierra Nevada’s owner and founder, Ken Grossman,” says operations manager Stan Cooper. “Ken leads the industry in alternative energy, with solar and hydrogen fuel cells used throughout the brewery, producing up to 1 megawatt (MW) of power from fuel cells, and 1.5 MW from solar.”
The brewery’s green efforts do not stop at the power panel. “The recycling programs include a ‘hot rot,’ which takes all the brewery restaurant’s food waste and the brewery’s compostable items, and turns them into compost that is used on a two-acre organic farm,” continues Cooper. “We have also purchased a bio-diesel processing machine to take all of the used oil from the restaurant and convert it to bio-diesel that is used in our trucks.”
Sierra Nevada’s green initiatives continue beyond the brewery, out onto the highway. While the company’s fleet has nearly 50 hybrid Toyota Prius cars, and a hybrid Peterbilt tractor, the most interesting hybrids in the fleet are the refrigerated trailers equipped with Vector hybrid refrigeration units from Carrier.
What began as a trial of the Vector hybrid technology with one specialized event trailer, eventually changed major elements of the company’s equipment strategy. While parked at the brewery, the Vector unit runs on AC power, provided by a combination of the plant’s solar, fuel cell and grid power network. On the road, the diesel engine runs a generator to power the Vector’s all-electric refrigeration system. Once at an event, it can plug into electricity again, or run off diesel if there is no “shore-power” source.
“We acquired one of the first Carrier Vector units after it was shown at the Great American Truck Show,” says Cooper. “This unit is proudly displayed on our 48’ event trailer. We can pull up to an event and within a few hours, we are set up and ready to pour 200 cold kegs through 24 tap handles. I feel that this diesel-electric hybrid technology needs to be the wave of the future.” The Vector refrigeration unit worked so well that Sierra Nevada decided to adopt it for its entire transport operation, and has received commitments from its for-hire carriers to adopt the technology as well.
Since loaded trailers routinely can sit parked on site for as much as six hours before departing, the company recently completed the electrification of a staging area that can accommodate more than 40 trailers. “We have installed electrical outlets powered from our solar panels to cool our beer as it waits for the truck to haul it to the distributor,” says Cooper. “This is much better than running the refrigeration units on diesel when parked at the brewery.”
In addition to cutting fuel consumption by running its trailer refrigeration units on AC power while parked at the brewery, Sierra Nevada is also making efforts to cut the cost of the fuel it does consume. “We are in the process of installing onsite bulk fuel storage and dispensing equipment to help position us to negotiate lower fuel prices,” says Cooper. “It will also allow our drivers to eliminate the time and miles spent driving to offsite fueling locations.”