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.  

Getting Aggressive With Sustainability

MUNICIPAL FLEET CUTS EMISSIONS BY RUNNING ON 100% BIODIESEL

Ames

The city snowplows in Ames, Iowa, have worked in all types of winter weather. Blizzards. Ice. Subzero temperatures. You name it, they’ve been out in it.

In early 2020, they did something they’ve never done before: run on fully renewable fuel. Using a simple, affordable piece of technology, several municipal snowplows took part in a pilot project to run 100% biodiesel.

“We really feel like we need to do something to change what we’re doing to our environment,” says Rich Iverson, the city’s Fleet Support Manager. “I would strongly suggest to any public official that they take a look at what this could do for sustainability in their communities.”

 

CUTTING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS

Biodiesel is a sustainable fuel that has been used for decades as a cleaner-burning alternative to petroleum diesel. It is made from renewable resources that would otherwise have no further use, including recycled cooking oil, waste animal fats and vegetable oils.

Traditionally, it’s been blended with petroleum diesel. For example, a common blend is called “B20,” meaning the fuel is 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel.

Recently, some forward-looking organizations have been using higher blends, including B100, to take even greater advantage of the environmental benefits of biodiesel. B100 reduces lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by up to 86% compared with petroleum diesel.*

The city of Ames is one of those. It’s a natural fit. They’re the hometown of Renewable Energy Group, North America’s largest biodiesel producer. And the city has a long history of being at the forefront of the sustainability movement, including in 1975 becoming the first city in the U.S. to open a waste-to-energy facility.

“We undertook the B100 project because we wanted to be responsible stewards to our planet, to the environment,” Mayor John Haila says. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to make a big impact.”

 

BEING A SUSTAINABILITY LEADER

With support from REG, Ames equipped several trucks to run 100% biodiesel. They’re high-use dump trucks fitted with a blade in the winter and used to haul material for road crews in the warmer months, and they account for 10% of the diesel fuel consumed by the city’s 300-unit fleet.

The B100 trucks were tested right away, with a snowstorm the first weekend. Since then, they’ve run in temperatures as cold as minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit and have made a three-hour roundtrip at highway speeds to pick up road salt.

“We’ve had no issues,” says Justin Clausen, Public Works Operations Manager for the city of Ames. “The operators and service technicians would not hesitate to tell me if something was wrong, and not once have I heard a concern from them.”

B100 has also proven to be an easy way for the city to have an immediate effect on climate change. Like many organizations, Ames has looked into various alternative fuels, but many are cost-prohibitive or are not yet ready to meet their needs, especially with medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

“Going to B100 with this particular technology is extremely practical for us,” Iverson says. “It’s a great first step as we really get aggressive with our sustainability program. It works beautifully.”

With the environmental, performance and ease-of-use advantages, Ames officials say the prospects of expanding B100 usage look good.

“I think the future is extremely bright for biodiesel,” the mayor says. “We’re excited to partner with REG and also lead the way nationally in looking for new ways to be sustainable and good stewards of our environment.”

 

B100 — How It Works

  • Fuel delivery system with a split tank for petroleum diesel in one section and biodiesel in another installed on truck 
  • In cold weather, diesel used on start-up
  • System warms biodiesel and automatically switches truck to 100% biodiesel
  • At shut-off, truck idles for a couple minutes while biodiesel purged from lines

 


 

 

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