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.  

UP AND RUNNING WITH BIODIESEL

BIODIESEL GIVES TOW TRUCK COMPANY THE PERFORMANCE IT NEEDS FOR COMPLICATED JOBS AT A PRICE THAT HELPS ITS BOTTOM LINE.

Central Iowa Towing

 

There’s nothing simple about being a tow truck driver at Central Iowa Towing & Recovery. Not when your job involves calculating the load limits, resistance and angle of approach needed to safely pull a big rig out of an interstate ditch.

There’s also nothing simple about operating a 62,000-pound tow truck while pulling a vehicle that weighs 80,000 pounds. That’s 142,000 pounds rolling down the road.

What Dustin Tapp, owner of the Ames-based company, does want to keep simple is his fuel. He wants fuel that is readily available, is cost-effective and performs well.

He’s found all of that in biodiesel.

“I’ve experienced the cost of my overhead going down with biodiesel. The cost of what appears to be emissions-caused breakdowns going down. We’re not losing any fuel mileage. And it’s a less expensive fuel,” Tapp says. “That should be enough to sell anyone. Lowering your costs while keeping your income the same? Makes sense to me.”

 

FUEL THAT PERFORMS

Tapp started Central Iowa Towing & Recovery in 2014 as the sole employee with one truck and operating out of an old farm shop. He’s grown it into a business with three locations, over 35 employees and nearly 50 trucks ranging from light to heavy-duty that operate throughout the contiguous United States.

The company does plenty of traditional tow jobs, but it’s really made a name for itself with its ability to tow heavy-duty trucks. In addition to responding to accidents and breakdowns, this includes transporting tractors across the nation on behalf of trucking companies.

“Our trucks are emergency response units to a degree,” Tapp says. “They can get called out at any given time, in any given temperature, in any given condition. We can’t afford to put just any fuel in them or do anything else that would negatively affect our performance.”

Until 2018, the fleet ran on No. 2 ULSD. Then Tapp gave biodiesel a try after hearing about the renewable fuel’s performance and financial benefits. Now the fleet typically runs on B11, meaning the fuel is 11 percent biodiesel and 89 percent petroleum diesel.

“Making the switch was simple,” Tapp says. “We used our same storage tanks and changed the filters out. The vehicles didn’t notice a difference, and our fuel mileage is where it’s always been.”

If anything, they’ve noticed performance advantages with biodiesel, including no fuel injector issues since switching. Biodiesel provides the lubricity needed to protect components like injectors, which ULSD doesn’t do.

“We put over 100,000 miles a year on some of the trucks, and they need the power to run themselves and also tow a large truck. Biodiesel has given us what we need,” Tapp says. “On top of all that, it has been a more cost-effective option for us.”

 

‘EVERYTHING IS VERY SMOOTH’

Renewable Energy Group produces the biodiesel and, through its fuel service in Iowa, delivers a blended product to Central Iowa Towing & Recovery’s fuel tanks.

“Fuel quality is great. Service is great. Delivery is fast. Accounting, billing — everything is very smooth,” Tapp says.

Smooth is also a good way to describe his experience with biodiesel.

“Fleet performance is extremely important,” Tapp says. “The performance of our fuel, the performance of our trucks cannot suffer from anything, and we’ve had good luck with biodiesel.”



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