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.  

Why a 34-Year Veteran Mechanic Believes in Biodiesel

Diesel equipment technology instructor Scott Balding schools his students on the benefits of biodiesel.

An important component of diesel education.

As the diesel equipment technology instructor at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Illinois, Scott Balding’s main responsibility is to educate and train students about diesel technology and fuels. With 34 years of experience in the field, he is focused on preparing the next generation of diesel engine mechanics.

As little as 2% biodiesel can provide 66% more lubricity.

With the numerous moving internal parts of an engine working at a high temperature, lubricity is important for maintaining functionality. From the fuel pump to the fuel injector, biodiesel can be used to help lubricate the engine components. According to Balding, as little as 2 percent biodiesel can provide 66 percent more lubricity when added to petroleum diesel fuel. However, perhaps the most important component, which combines performance and emission advantages, is the low sulfur content.

“In the last few years, the fuel industry has reduced the amount of sulfur from 500 down to 15 parts per million in petroleum diesel fuel. But sulfur has lubricating properties, so when you remove it from diesel, you lose lubrication. When you add biodiesel, even at just 1 or 2 percent, you bring back that lubricity, but not the sulfur,” Balding says.

Biodiesel removes buildup thanks to cleaning properties. 

There are myths in the industry suggesting that using biodiesel leads to filter plugging. According to Balding, that myth has some truth, but it must be taken in context. In 30 plus years working on diesel engines, Balding sees one recurring issue when it comes to diesel fuel — cleanliness.

“Diesel is a dirty fuel, and after years of use buildup will occur in storage tanks and the engine fuel system,” says Balding.

“Biodiesel has solvent properties and will remove this buildup. Farmers need to realize that their fuel storage and equipment tanks must be clean, and they need to change filters on a regular basis. Once the transition to biodiesel blended fuel is complete, then your system is clean and you can return to a regular maintenance schedule as recommended by your engine manufacturer.”

Balding is a biodiesel proponent and is hopeful that when his students graduate they will have a solid understanding of the many benefits of biodiesel.

“It’s time to ignore the myths and embrace biodiesel for what it is — a good fuel that is good for our environment and economy.”

"Our students learn about the biodiesel production process firsthand, and we burn various blends of biodiesel in our engines, looking at the characteristics of horsepower and torque, and how the engine is responding to the fuel."Scott Balding, Diesel Equipment Technology Instructor, Wabash Valley College

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