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.  

Alternative Fuels Good for Business at California Truck Stop

Located in a trucking hub, Fontana Truck Stop Center meets demand for cleaner fuels and sees positive margins with biodiesel and renewable hydrocarbon diesel.

Fontana Truck Stop Center has an ideal location. It’s just off one interstate and near another, both of them taking traffic to and from Los Angeles. It’s also in an industrial area populated with distribution centers, manufacturers and equipment dealerships.

“Fontana is a major hub for trucking,” says truck stop co-owner Lonnie Tabbaa. “You have all the big industries here. And we service all the major fleets and the smaller ones, both local and out-of-state drivers.”

But with fierce competition in the area for drivers, success is not guaranteed. Fontana Truck Stop Center has found that offering renewable fuels is one way to stand out, so they sell biodiesel blends and a blend of biodiesel and renewable hydrocarbon diesel (RHD) at its diesel islands.

The biodiesel advantage

Sustainability comes into play a couple of different ways.

First, companies and municipalities are increasingly adopting sustainability plans that aim to reduce their carbon footprints. Transportation fuels are a significant part of those efforts.

Second, the state of California is a global leader in setting policies to cut emissions. That includes the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), which requires a reduction in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels.

Fontana Truck Stop Center began selling biodiesel blends in 2015, starting at a B5 blend before quickly moving up to B20.

“Biodiesel is better for the environment than regular diesel,” says Abdul Mardini, the truck stop’s general manager. “It also gives us an advantage on the price we pay for fuel. At the same time, we can offer it to the drivers at a lower price. And it gives us an advantage on the truck stops that don’t use it.”

New blend draws interest

In 2017, Fontana Truck Stop Center began offering renewable hydrocarbon diesel for similar reasons: sustainability and economics. Then REG, which they buy fuel from, made them aware that blending biodiesel and renewable hydrocarbon diesel was an option. The blended product features many of the best attributes of the individual fuels:

• Superior emissions reductions.
• Excellent Cetane and lubricity, and lower aromatics and Cloud Point.
• Easy handling and storage.
• Allows companies to stretch their supply of RHD, which can be hard to get.

“The economics have been better for us and for drivers, we’ve heard no complaints about performance and it’s good for the environment,” Mardini says. “Also, there’s a lot of demand for RHD in California. By blending it with 20 percent biodiesel, we can expand our supplies of RHD.”

Renewables attract customers

Renewable fuels have done more for Fontana Truck Stop Center than drive business to the pumps. By attracting drivers to the truck stop, they’ve also given a boost to other services, such as in-store food sales, a detail center and a truck wash.

“I’ve told many friends of mine, as well as competitors who have truck stops, that renewable fuels are a good thing to have,” Tabbaa says. “It’s clean for the environment, you can make a better margin on the fuels and the drivers are fine with it. There are no issues.”

"A lot of fleets are sending their trucks to places that have cleaner-burning fuels. Also, we see better margins with renewable fuels than regular diesel fuel. They’re good for business."
Lonnie Tabbaa Co-owner, Fontana Truck Stop Center 

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