It's Just Business

Biodiesel use in vehicle fleets has been catching on in the past few years, creating many success stories along the way. Biodiesel Magazine profiles six companies that prove enterprise mixes well with the renewable fuel.
By Dave Nilles and Kory Wallen | January 01, 2006
Hundreds of vehicle fleets throughout the United States are using biodiesel. Undoubtedly, many more will begin using the renewable fuel in 2006.
The reasons for switching to biodiesel are many. Some companies want to be better stewards to the environment. Others believe it helps reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and some use biodiesel in order to achieve compliance with EPAct regulations.

However, there are many private, commercial fleets that use biodiesel for one reason: it makes sense. Whether that is protecting the health of their employees or because it saves money in the long run, companies are actively pursuing the use of biodiesel in their fleet vehicles.

Biodiesel Magazine recently caught up with six of these fleets and listened to their stories. The resounding message was inspiring. Biodiesel is findings its way into more vehicles across the country.

The following isn't meant to profile the typical fleet in the United States. It's simply a cross section of the types of companies and their equipment using biodiesel today.

Fitting a legendary outfitter with B20
L.L. Bean, the worldwide outdoor equipment and apparel company, has always been committed to understanding and addressing environmental issues. It's the way the company has operated since its humble 1912 beginning near Freeport, Maine.

Growing from a one-man operation to a global business hasn't caused L.L. Bean to lose touch with its environment-friendly ways. The company still uses recycled material for its catalogs. Pollution problems in Maine's Acadia National Park prompted L.L. Bean to donate $1 million to convert the park's bus system to propane.

However, improving its own environmental footprint was still a major issue within the company. Switching the company fleet to biodiesel and propane were at the top of a short list to help reduce emissions. That's why, three years ago, L.L. Bean began using a B20 blend of biodiesel in some of its fleet vehicles.

In early 2003, the company began a biodiesel pilot program that fueled trucks hauling merchandise from the warehouse to retail stores in Maine and New Hampshire. "We have particularly cold winters here in Maine," L.L. Bean Environmental Director Carolyne Beem said. "We were told that winter would be problematic for biodiesel." The company went forward with its pilot program and has yet to discover any problems running B20 in the winter months.
he pilot program was scheduled to last one year, but the company had seen only good things and decided to roll out the program to the freight vehicles in the fleet. The program now involves seven large freight trucks with the possible addition of smaller fleet vehicles soon.

L.L. Bean also offers an interactive outdoors learning course, the Outdoor Discovery Program, where the company uses biodiesel-powered shuttle buses to transport participants.

Greening a chemical production site
With a facility site covering more than 850 acres and employing over 7,000 employees, Eastman Chemical's Kingsport, Tenn., operations are easily one of the largest chemical-producing plants in North America. So when the company looked at using biodiesel, it wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision. In fact, it took several years of research and planning before making the switch. "It was new," Eastman's Fleet Administrator Darren Curtis said, referring to biodiesel. "And as it tends to be with new technology and a new fuel, people were afraid of it."

The fuel's relative novelty, and its higher cost, forced the biodiesel plans to the backburner until late 2004 when Eastman officials reconsidered. Once again, the company did its research, including contacting smaller fleets that were using biodiesel. This time, Eastman approved the move.

On March 1, Eastman began using a B5 blend in over 200 vehicles and 150 pieces of stationary equipment. The low-level blend was introduced because Eastman officials were wary of biodiesel's tendency to act as a solvent and break loose prior diesel fuel-related residue. "We never did have that problem," Curtis said.

After the smooth transition to B5 was complete, Eastman increased its blend to B20 on April 1. It didn't stop there. In September, Eastman increased to a B30 blend, which it continued to use until the last week of November when it dropped to B10 on the advice of its distributor, Butler, Ky.-based Griffin Industries. Curtis said cold weather was the reason for the move. He plans to use B30 again, possibly as soon as early March, depending on the weather.

For now, Eastman continues to use approximately 300,000 gallons of biodiesel-blended diesel fuel annually in a fleet that includes heavy- and medium-duty trucks, cranes, bulldozers and dump trucks, and stationary equipment such as welders and generators.

King of the hill
It's appropriate that Sugarbush Resort's environmental management group is named the Green Team. The Warren, Vt., ski resort, which serves six mountains and an area covering more than 4,000 acres, is always looking for ways to improve its environmental footprint. For its efforts, the Green Team helped the resort receive the 2002 Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence in Education and Outreach.

According to Sugarbush's Tim Jones, the resort won a similar award in 2005 for another project the Green Team helped spearhead-the use of biodiesel in snow grooming and plowing equipment.

Aided by a $2,500 Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund grant, Sugarbush began using B20 on one of its mountains as part of a pilot study over the 2004-'05 winter season. The results were positive. Jones, who led the pilot program, presented those results in a report to the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund in March 2005. In large part due to those results and the presentation at an annual environmental event called Sustainable Slopes Day, several other ski resorts are considering using biodiesel.

This year, Sugarbush has expanded its biodiesel usage to seven pieces of equipment. The fuel cost, which was nearly $8,000 the first year, has dropped significantly because the resort's distributor, Proctor Oil Co. in Proctor, Vt., installed permanent biodiesel storage, Jones said.

Going underground
From the top of the mountain to under the ground, biodiesel proves its versatility while improving the health of Kansas salt mine workers. In 2003, the Hutchinson Salt Co. in Hutchinson, Kan., was having trouble staying below the Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) maximum level of diesel particulates in its underground salt mine. In fact, they were well above the recommended levels.

With the help of Max Liby, Hutchinson Salt Co.'s vice president of manufacturing, the company decided to start using biodiesel in its machinery. It was the first mine of any kind to do so.

The mine currently operates all of its 22 pieces of underground equipment-from 185-horsepower front loaders to utility pick-up trucks-on B100. "We didn't mess around with any blends," Liby said. "We went straight for the B100."

Since starting the biodiesel program, Liby has seen a drastic decrease in diesel particulates. According to Liby, the mine's particulate readings are 90 micrograms per cubic meter. "I now can tell inspectors, 'We don't have diesel particulates, but we might have soy particulates,'" Liby joked.

Air quality has come at a price. With B100 costing about $1 more per gallon, Hutchinson spent over $30,000 on biodiesel last year. Liby easily justifies the cost. "We are cleaning the air underground," he said. "The workers like it, and the money we are spending stays here in the Midwest."

There have been few problems with B100 aside from replacing a few fuel filters after the initial switch. Liby also doesn't have to worry about B100's cold flow issues. "The underground temperature is a constant 71 degrees, so we don't have a problem with B100 gelling up," Liby said.

Brewing biodiesel for a brewery
New Belgium Brewing Co., the Fort Collins, Colo.-based beer producer, is well known for its sustainable and environmentally responsible stance. In fact, the company has its own sustainable outreach coordinator, Hilary Mizia, to explore and implement environmentally friendly projects.

Approximately two years ago, Mizia pushed New Belgium to begin using biodiesel. After all, Fort Collins has its own biodiesel blender and distributor in Blue Sun Biodiesel.

Finally, a regional air council granted New Belgium the necessary grant needed to help offset the increased price of biodiesel. "That was the little bit of a push I needed to get the biodiesel wheels turning," Mizia said.

Although that grant has long since expired, it hasn't stopped New Belgium from using B20 in its three Fort Collins delivery trucks. "At this point, it is something that is worth paying a little extra for," Mizia said. With a new Blue Sun biodiesel pump recently opening in Fort Collins, Mizia said some of the brewery's sales fleet may consider using biodiesel as well.

Initially, New Belgium considered putting in its own biodiesel pump, or even producing biodiesel itself. "In the end, we decided to leave biodiesel manufacturing to the biodiesel plants," Mizia said. "Leave the beer to us."

Notably, New Belgium has joined the Chicago Climate Exchange, which is the first U.S. voluntary pilot program for the trading of greenhouse gases.

"Private companies are the ones that really have to have the vision and wisdom to use the fuel," Blue Sun President and CEO Jeff Probst said. "Groups like New Belgium realize the sustainability and environmental perspectives, and performance benefits."

A new user in New Mexico
Probst's company is also distributing biodiesel to a much larger fleet of biodiesel users. PNM, a subsidiary of Albuquerque, N.M.-based PNM Resources, is New Mexico's largest electricity and natural gas provider with more than 870,000 customers statewide.

A single fleet manager in Santa Fe helped lead the change to biodiesel at PNM, according to PNM spokesman Jeff Buell. The manager began testing B20 in his personal vehicle. That experience prompted PNM to consider the switch.

Following several months of research, PNM workers began filling vehicles with B20 in July at refueling stations in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Approximately 60 percent of PNM's 426 fleet vehicles refuel at those stations. The equipment ranges from bucket trucks, heavy-duty pickups and backhoes to stationary equipment such as air compressors and welders.

In addition to anecdotal evidence that the switch has increased engine power and improved exhaust smell, Buell said fuel economy has improved by up to 12 percent. "Most importantly, a lot of the guys had no idea the switch had been made," Buell said. "They weren't aware of it."

PNM purchases approximately 240,000 gallons of B20 annually. The slightly higher price of biodiesel is something PNM expects to overcome in the long run due to higher engine lubricity, lower maintenance costs and improved fuel efficiency. "We believe, over the course of the life cycle of each vehicle, we'll break even or come out ahead," Buell said. "With the environmental aspect on top, it's a pretty compelling case."

Dave Nilles is associate editor of Biodiesel Magazine. Reach him at [email protected] or (701) 746-8385. Kory Wallen is a Biodiesel Magazine staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or (701) 746-8385.
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