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.  

Service Tech Sees 'Huge Difference' With Bioheat® Fuel

If Steven Calvaruso hasn’t seen it all in the heating oil industry, then he’s seen darn near all of it.

He’s been a heating system service technician in New York City since 1984. Calvaruso wasn’t expecting much of a change when his employer, Cohler Fuel Oil Co. in Brooklyn, switched a few years ago from traditional heating oil to heating oil with biodiesel blended into it — a product known as Bioheat® blended fuel.

"Bioheat fuel maintains consumer independence from the big utilities, and it has the safety, comfort and service advantages that traditional oil heat has been known for but is so much cleaner and is the gateway to a renewable energy future."
Steven Calvaruso, Cohler Fuel Oil Co.

He was wrong

“As a technician, I noticed a huge difference in the equipment and how it ran,” Calvaruso says. “I explain to customers that it is a wonderful product compared to what they were using.”

Bioheat blended fuel helps fight what Calvaruso considers the No. 1 problem affecting the efficiency of a heating system: carbon accumulation on the surfaces of heat exchangers.

“Since we started using biodiesel, there's been a noticeable drop-off in carbon-related service calls and of carbon on the heat exchanger surfaces,” he says. “They've been much cleaner, and that translates into better efficiency for the system. That makes everybody happy — customers and us.”

The switch to Bioheat blended fuel from traditional heating oil is simple, according to Calvaruso. Heating systems require no equipment modifications. In the first few months, filters need to be changed more frequently, but that’s because the biodiesel is cleaning out the carbon left behind by traditional heating oil. After the first season or so, oil filters are much cleaner for customers who have their burners tuned-up every year.

Residential users also are eligible for a state tax credit for using biodiesel blends. Cohler Fuel Oil delivers a B5 blend to its customers. The results have been so impressive that Cohler Fuel Oil owner Allan Cohn is advocating for a pilot program to encourage Bioheat blended fuel usage and heating oil–compatible systems in new homes and those in need of new heating equipment.

Bioheat fuel is the future

Bioheat blended fuel is a hit with Cohler Fuel Oil customers. And who can blame them? They have cleaner-burning systems that require less service because of an environmentally friendly fuel that also carries a financial incentive.

"I explain to customers the benefits of using biodiesel and how it translates to a more efficient system and how that, in turn, translates to savings for them. That, of course makes them very happy. So the customers have had an overwhelmingly positive attitude towards it."
Steven Calvaruso, Cohler Fuel Oil Co

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