Card-Carrying Biotruckers

A new breed of truckers is emerging among the ranks of the transportation industry and their numbers are increasing up and down the lanes of U.S. highways. The biotrucker has arrived. Although the moniker may sound like some kind of futuristic fictional character from another planet, these men and women are red-blooded Americans.
By Timothy Charles Holmseth | May 14, 2008
A strong sense of patriotism, camaraderie with the American farmer and a concern for the environment is prompting more over-the-road truck drivers to fuel their big rigs with biodiesel. To ensure this trend continues, the National Biodiesel Foundation created a Web site to guide drivers to truck stops that carry biodiesel and to offer BioTrucker Fuel Cards.

Sharon Bell, who specializes in trucking outreach for the NBF, says the primary hurdle for truckers has always been locating gas stations that carry biodiesel when they're ready to fuel up. "I want to buy biodiesel, but where can I get it?" Bell says, parroting a question she often hears from truck drivers.

In a brochure designed to promote the Web site and the use of biodiesel, Loren Beal of Lacrosse, N.D., said although his experience using the renewable fuel has been great, he regrets that it isn't more readily available. "I get five-eighths of a mile more to the gallon with biodiesel," he said. "It cleans the fuel tanks, lines and injectors. I wish more places had it; I get it anywhere I can."

Indeed, the experiences and observations of today's drivers seem to indicate that availability is a major sore spot. However, the availability problem can be addressed with good communications and information, Bell says. "We created a Web site called www.biotrucker.com," she says. The response to the Web site, which features a map and hotline identifying stations that sell biodiesel, has been nothing short of phenomenal. "We get 8,000 to 12,000 unique visitors a month," she says.

The truck drivers positive reaction to the Web site comes as no surprise to NBF Executive Director Tom Verry, who is also the director of outreach and development for the National Biodiesel Board. "Truckers rely on laptop computers more and more to find loads and route information," he says. Computer usage has permeated every aspect of American life, and the business of moving goods across the country is no exception. "The ones who don't [have computer access on the road] will call back home to their wives," he says, adding that trucking is often a family-run business. Verry believes the response to the Web site is a manifestation of truckers' devotion to their country, the environment and their farming friends. "If there's any way they can use [biodiesel], they want to use it to help reduce our dependence on imported oil and support American farmers," he says. "Our logo for biotrucker is 'American farmers fueling American truckers,'" he says.

Card-Carrying Benefits
The BioTrucker Fuel Card looks and functions like a credit card, and has several benefits for truck drivers who choose to use biodiesel. "If they buy biodiesel within our network there is no transaction fee," Verry says. "A lot of truckers pay up to $5 per transaction for fuel purposes." The in-network locations and other truck stops that carry biodiesel are listed on the Web site. The NBF has nearly 150 in-network locations that carry biodiesel and they are continually adding to that list, Bell says.

There are other ways that truck drivers can save money using the card. "They get the cash price on biodiesel purchases, not the credit card price," Verry says, noting that the cash price is typically lower. Bell says a handful of stations also offer an at-the-pump discount for biodiesel. Kevin Cassidy, marketing manager for Sapp Bros. Travel Centers, says the company is proud to be one of the first biodiesel providers to offer a 2-cent per gallon discount at the pump. "We are huge supporters of biodiesel and this program will generate interest and awareness," he said in a press release announcing the BioTrucker Fuel Card.

To increase the number of options for truck drivers, the NBF is partnering with Fleet One, a service provider for companies with vehicle fleets. Fleet One is accepted at about 5,000 truck stops nationwide, Verry says. "Fleet One says this has been the biggest partnership roll out of a fuel card they've had," he says, noting that the company forms these types of partnerships all the time. "[Fleet One] has communication channels set up. That service alone is invaluable for our efforts to help us keep our database."

Generating Interest
In mid-March, the foundation shared a booth with the United Soybean Board at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., where it accepted applications for the card. "We had about 70 truckers come by who were interested," she says. "We had more than 30 applications actually filled out at the show."

Verry sees the initial success of the Web site and the card as a sign that things are changing. Pointing out the obvious, dependence on foreign oil that the U.S. experiences daily and painfully at the pump, he says the truck drivers have had it with Mideast oil and high prices. "Truckers will sometimes put it in some blunt terms, [how they feel] about Mideast oil," he says. "They're being squeezed there's no doubt about it." The high cost of diesel fuel spurred some truck drivers to head to Washington, D.C., in April, to see if they could get some relief from lawmakers. Their anger and frustration with fuel prices may be another factor driving them toward a fuel that can be produced with feedstocks that can be obtained locally.

In trucker testimonials the NBF gathered during the Mid-America Trucking Show, Brad Luce, a truck driver from Shakopee, Minn., said he wants farmers to benefit from the fuel he purchases. "I believe in biodiesel for security," he says. "I want to see American dollars go to American farmers rather than the Middle East." Arch Robertson, a trucker from Mechanicsville, Va., agreed, saying that biodiesel is good for everything. "It's good for our trucks, the environment, farmers and our country." Greg Bosley a trucker from Baltimore, Md., appreciates the extra mileage he gets when he uses biodiesel. "I find that highway mileage increases 100 to 125 miles per tank. I also notice no more soot on the paint from the exhaust, and the engine runs smoother and quieter," he said.

As the number of BioTrucker Fuel Card holders increases and the Web site's popularity grows, Verry says they plan to continue adding value to the products. "The next step is to get price information in there," he says, explaining how real-time information on prices would be an invaluable asset to drivers.

Although it's designed for truckers, others are interested in the fuel card. "We're getting interest from companies who want to see their products moved with biodiesel-by biodiesel powered trucks," Verry says. "A lot of corporations are looking to 'green' their companies."

The fuel card could also be used by companies that have fleets to convert their biodiesel use into carbon reduction equivalents. "If we could provide [fleets] a print-out through the BioTrucker Fuel Card [they could] track their biodiesel use," he says. "We kind of build this brick by brick," he says, stressing that the ultimate goal is to see the United States achieve independence from the stranglehold of foreign oil.

Truckers can sign up for the BioTrucker Fuel Card by going to www.biotrucker .com

Timothy Charles Holmseth is a Biodiesel Magazine staff writer. Reach him at tholmseth@bbibiofuels.com or (701) 738-4962.
 
 
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