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.  

How Proactive Tank Management Promotes Better Quality Fuel

Ag-Land FS, Inc., provides more than 1,000,000 gallons of reliable biodiesel every year thanks to an integrated quality assurance process.

Clean tanks are critical to biodiesel’s success.

John Papenhause, energy consultant at Ag-Land FS, Inc., believes that a successful biodiesel blended fuel program begins with clean tanks.

“If you have existing bulk plant storage tanks, I strongly recommend thoroughly cleaning the tanks,” says Papenhause. “Next, make sure your customer fuel tanks are clean.”

The Ag-Land FS sales team inspects and cleans customer fuel storage tanks before biodiesel blended fuel or straight No. 2 ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) is delivered to a farm or commercial account. Then they inspect customer tanks twice annually — in the spring and fall — to proactively identify potential issues.

“If we make sure that tanks are good and clean, we know we’re not going to have problems downstream,” says Papenhause. “There are a lot of ins and outs related to tank maintenance, and it cannot be taken for granted. We make the effort to check the tanks. If we need to clean them, we clean them.”

Fuel filtering leads to higher quality products.

Ag-Land FS goes one step further to ensure they deliver the highest quality fuel by filtering all fuel in and out of their bulk plant using a 10-micron filter. Plus, they added filters to delivery trucks, ensuring the biodiesel blended fuel delivered to customers meets their strict quality standards.

Front line employee training is key to customer relationships.

Ag-Land FS provides training on biodiesel to their sales team and delivery truck drivers. Because they are on the front line with customers, it’s critical that they understand every aspect of the biodiesel program.

“From our perspective, the training wasn’t difficult,” says Papenhause. “We demonstrated that we’re bringing in a quality product, the B99 is stored in a heated tank, the blended fuel was going into clean tanks, and it would be filtered in and out of the bulk plant and delivery trucks. The sales and delivery team trusted us, and we followed through on our commitment. That’s what has led to our success.”

"Back in 2002, we began offering biodiesel blended fuel to our customers and it was so new that we had to handle the biodiesel in 5 gallon buckets. We’ve learned a lot over the years, and we strive to ensure we maintain stringent fuel standards."
John Papenhause, Energy Management Specialist, Ag-Land FS, Inc. 

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