Biodiesel Pays Off for Travel Center, Wholesaler

“Biodiesel has opened a lot of doors for us.” That’s what the vice president of Sapp Bros., Inc. says of the renewable fuel’s effect on his company’s travel center and fuel wholesale businesses.

The Economic Advantage of Biodiesel

Sapp Bros., Inc. has experienced the benefits of biodiesel with two different businesses.

One is Sapp Bros. Travel Centers, which operates 17 travel centers stretching from Salt Lake City to Pennsylvania, many of them along Interstate 80. The other is a fuel wholesale business, Sapp Bros. Petroleum, which sells petroleum diesel, biodiesel, biodiesel blends, and other fuels and lubricants.

“Economically, biodiesel is a good thing to do,” says Kevin Cassidy, Vice President of both the petroleum and travel center businesses. “It’s also a sustainable fuel. It’s made us more competitive.”

Biodiesel economics spur interest

The company’s travel center in Peru, Illinois, offers a case study in these benefits. Located 100 miles west of Chicago on I-80, Sapp Bros. Peru is a full-service travel center that sees 750,000 customers a year.

It was one of the first travel centers in the state to offer biodiesel blends when it introduced the alternative fuel in 2005, according to Cassidy.

“The state of Illinois established a sales tax exemption on blends of B11 and higher that still stands, and it made sense to do it,” he says. “The B100 was priced attractively, below what our petroleum diesel cost. And we were able to offer a B11 blend at 8 cents per gallon below our No. 2 ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD). It went over very well with our customers.”

The infrastructure changes needed to introduce biodiesel were relatively simple. Sapp Bros. Peru converted a 12,000-gallon underground storage tank to hold straight biodiesel, or B100. Then as now, biodiesel is piped over to a loading station where petroleum fuel trucks come in, and Sapp Bros. uses splash blending by loading the B100 into the top of a truck’s tank. The truck then unloads the blended fuel into tanks that feed the diesel islands.

“To get started with biodiesel, our infrastructure upgrades were minimal,” Cassidy says. “It was around an eight-month payback on the cost.”

Utilizing B20

Cassidy is able to easily adjust the blend level and frequently goes up to a B20 blend.

“The blending economics make B20 a smart choice for us,” Cassidy says. “And I’ve had drivers say it’s cleaned up their fuel systems, cleaned their fuel injectors, and they actually get better mileage with biodiesel blends versus a regular No. 2 ULSD because of the clean injectors.”

The Peru travel center and the wholesale business run out of the location use B11 throughout the winter, and on milder winter days will move up to B20. Cassidy says by using a good cold weather additive, they’ve had no issues in storage tanks, at dispensers or with customers.

No matter the weather, he advises other travel centers to do their homework on producers and to purchase quality fuel.

“REG produces a quality product, they stand behind it, and they have the supply to meet our demand,” Cassidy says.

Biodiesel has made Sapp Bros. more competitive both against other travel centers and as a fuel distributor.

“Because we took the step and handled biodiesel, it opened up a lot of doors for us as a wholesaler,” Cassidy says. “And at our travel centers, having a diverse lineup of fuels attracts a bigger customer base. Besides filling up with fuel, they’re inside your stores. They’re shopping, maybe getting something to eat. There are benefits to bringing in new faces.”

The Bottom Line

Economics

Sapp Bros. pays less for biodiesel.
They can price biodiesel blends lower at the pump than ULSD, making them more competitive.
Helps drive in-store sales.

Infrastructure

Quick ROI on blending system.
Easy to switch blend level.

Watch: Sapp Bros. Explains Biodiesel Benefits

Biodiesel has made Sapp Bros. more competitive in the crowded travel center market. See the results.  

Fleet Finds All the Right Reasons to Use Biodiesel

Mahoney Environmental has long worked with the biodiesel industry. Now its own fleet is taking advantage of the fuel’s many benefits.

Mahoney Environmental has a very good business reason to support biodiesel: It collects used cooking oil from restaurants and sells it to biodiesel producers to be made into the renewable fuel. The greater the demand for biodiesel, the greater the demand for its services.

But that’s not why the Illinois-based company runs its 160-truck fleet on biodiesel blends. Instead, it’s the performance, financial and environmental benefits the company receives from the renewable fuel.

“At the end of the day, there’s not a lot of argument to be made against using biodiesel,” says Jeff Corbin, the company’s Director of Maintenance and Fleet Operations.

Performance benefits

Mahoney Environmental has restaurant customers in all 50 states, picking up used cooking oil, servicing grease traps, providing proprietary equipment for cooking oil handling and, in certain markets, delivering fresh oil.

Corbin’s job is to make sure that its full fleet of Class 7 and 8 trucks are in good running condition on any given day. So even though his employer is connected to the biodiesel industry, if the fuel didn’t perform, he wouldn’t use it.

That, however, has not been an issue. With biodiesel:
• The fleet’s miles per gallon have stayed steady
• The added lubricity has reduced wear on engine components
• The cleaner-burning fuel has helped the trucks’ after-treatment systems

“Our company can’t operate without the trucks,” Corbin says. “I certainly wouldn’t put anything into the vehicles that isn’t going to perform and keep them on the road on a daily basis.”

Financial benefits

Biodiesel has also made good financial sense for Mahoney Environmental. It often pays less for biodiesel than petroleum diesel throughout the country. The company gets further savings in its home state of Illinois, where biodiesel blends of B11 and above are exempt from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.

Then there are the added benefits like improved performance thanks to biodiesel’s added lubricity, higher Cetane and cleaner burn.

“It’s hard to put a dollar figure on those today, but in the long run, our goal is to reduce that maintenance expense and downtime,” Corbin says.

Environmental benefits

Given the work that it does, it probably goes without saying that environmental sustainability is important to Mahoney Environmental. That’s another reason it runs its fleet on biodiesel. Compared with petroleum diesel, the fuel reduces emissions of greenhouse gases, total hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

“We want to support biodiesel not only because we are engrained in the industry, but because it’s the right thing to do for our environment,” Corbin says. “We want to reduce our carbon footprint.”

A good partner

One of Mahoney Environmental’s used cooking oil customers is REG, which uses the waste oil as a feedstock in the biodiesel production process. It’s the relationship with REG and first-hand knowledge of the company’s high-quality fuel that persuaded Mahoney Environmental to go from dabbling in fueling its fleet with biodiesel to implementing it across its entire fleet at blend levels of up to B20.

“REG gives us a fuel that we have confidence in,” Corbin says. “Also, the support from them is phenomenal. REG is a great partner with us.” 

"At the end of the day, there's not a lot of argument to be made against using biodiesel."
Jeff Corbin, Director of Maintenance and Fleet Operations.

Mahoney Environmental

  • Located in Joliet, Illinois
  • Fleet travels 9.5 million miles annually
  • Fuels with biodiesel blends up to B20
  • Gets performance, financial and environmental benefits from biodiesel
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