Cleantech Award WinnerSan Francisco Business Times | June 17th, 2011
Gale Plummer’s first job out of college was selling diesel engines for a Caterpillar dealer in Kentucky. Thirty-five years later his company, Cleaire Advanced Emission Controls, leads the California market in diesel engine filtration systems.
With eight filter models in its production line — more than any of its half-dozen national competitors — Cleaire is taking 85 percent of the black carbon, or soot, out of more than 12,000 truck, bus and machine engines across North America. Because black carbon is vastly more polluting than gasoline, the company’s technology could impact air quality and global warming, too.
“It’s not just good solid business making sure the diesel engine population is clean and has a long life,” says CEO Plummer, whose company’s revenue this year exceeded $30 million. “We’re also making a positive contribution to the environment, to society.”
Designed in San Leandro and manufactured in San Diego, Cleaire’s ceramic and metallic filters collect and oxidize the soot buildup in engines, turning it into carbon and oxygen which burns off in a process called regeneration. And while competing filters also reduce emissions by 85 percent, Cleaire goes beyond that by reducing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, a precursor to smog, by 25 percent as well.
Another reason for Cleaire’s success is the chassis dynamometer and other data-logging instrumentation it owns — unlike most filter makers, which contract out — speeding up the process of getting its filtration systems certified and on the market.
“None of the other manufacturers reduces NOx emissions,” says Contra Costa County Transit Authority’s director of maintenance, Scott Mitchell, who installed Cleaire Longview filters on 131 of his buses in 2003. “We chose them because we wanted to do as much as possible to reduce emissions in the Bay Area. When we run our buses, you’ll never see smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe.”
Cleaire filtration systems have been installed on 1,400 transit buses in San Francisco and some 10,000 vehicles across the state; no less than 80 percent of the company’s business is in California, providing “good jobs, all local jobs. You can’t export these jobs,” says Plummer, who now plans to expand sales across the Northeast, Southeast and Rustbelt regions where levels of particulate matter are especially high.
Cleaire’s latest model, the LongMile metallic filter, is particularly good for school buses and local delivery trucks that do a lot of starting and stopping because it only requires exhaust temperatures to reach 260 degrees Celsius 7 percent of the time, as opposed to 25 to 40 percent of the time for standard on-road diesel filters.
With diesel engines typically lasting 20 to 30 years, Cleaire’s mission is to “retrofit the millions of engines that are already out there,” says Plummer, “to make older diesel engines behave just like the cleanest engines available.”