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


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.


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.  

Biodiesel Helps Harvard Ace Its Sustainability Tests

Ivy League school’s fleet sees emissions go down and performance stay strong with biodiesel blends.

When Harvard University adopted a comprehensive and aggressive five-year sustainability plan in 2014, David Harris Jr.

 felt like his department was ahead of the curve.

“I like to say we already had our homework completed, that we were well on our way,” says Harris, the director of transit and fleet management at the famed university. “We’ve been using biodiesel since 2004.”

Sustainability has become a major initiative for many organizations across the public and private sectors. It can have broad applications — Harvard’s plan, for example, includes everything from food to building construction to water usage to procurement — but transportation and fuel usage are a component of just about any plan.

That’s the case with Harvard, and biodiesel has proved to be a difference-maker in the commitment laid out in its sustainability plan.

Starting in spring 2016 and going back a year, Harvard’s biodiesel usage reduced hydrocarbon and sulfur dioxide by 20 percent, carbon dioxide by 15 percent, carbon monoxide by 12 percent, and particulate matter by 12 percent, according to the university.

It’s numbers like those that led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s New England office to recognize Harvard Fleet Management with the 2016 Environmental Merit Award for showing ingenuity and commitment to improving the environment.

Other fleet sustainability efforts include right-sizing the fleet, starting an anti-idling campaign and signing on to the NAFA Fleet Management Association’s accreditation program for sustainable fleets.

‘Ahead of the curve’

The university’s fleet department started researching alternative fuels in the early 2000s. Harris found that back then (and even now) many options required by the investment, such as natural gas, were cost prohibitive.

“When we were presented with biodiesel, it was almost the simplest sustainability solution,” he says.

Harvard started using biodiesel in 2004 in vehicles that were past their warranties. By 2005, they were fueling nearly every diesel vehicle with biodiesel blends.

“We weren’t having any issues that concerned us,” Harris says. “We were ahead of the curve. We just said, ‘Go for it.’”

In the first full year of use, Harvard used 35,000 gallons of biodiesel. In fiscal year 2016, that number topped 100,000 gallons.

Biodiesel improves quality of fleet

Harvard’s fleet of more than 90 diesel-powered vehicles fills up with a B20 blend year-round. Performance has never been an issue. In fact, when a unit needs replacement and there’s an option of gas or diesel, Harvard usually purchases the diesel model.

“Biodiesel has really helped improve the overall efficiency and quality of the diesel fleet with the added lubricity and the fact that it’s always cleaner burning,” Harris says. “We have been able to run our diesel vehicles over the 100,000-mile mark with no problem.”

That’s a message he shares with other fleet managers. He also tells them that, at a time when keeping up with evolving diesel technology is one of the biggest challenges in the fleet industry, biodiesel gives him no anxiety.

“Biodiesel has been the least of our challenges since we’ve been using the fuel,” he says. “We can just pump it and turn the other way.”

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