Clayton McInnis, vice president of business development, was able to expand the company’s environmental initiatives through college studies. “When I went to college, I wrote a business plan for my degree,” he recalls. “It was to make our own biodiesel. I partnered with a company out of Chico, CA, called Springboard Biodiesel (www.springboardbiodiesel.com). I became the Alabama dealer rep for the equipment.”
McInnis used one of these systems to manufacture biodiesel for its own use and began blending it into the fuel supply. “We run anywhere from B10 to B20 in our off-road equipment,” he says.
This offers a pricing advantage. “We make it for around $1.20 a gallon,” says McInnis. But no corners are cut on quality. “It conforms to ASTM standards. If biodiesel is handled correctly, it is a really good quality fuel.”
Yet, many contractors ignore the possibilities. “There is still this adverse reaction to it where a lot of people kind of turn a blind eye because they don’t want to consider anything different,” says McInnis. “And we must. We must have other options that are compatible, not only for the economy, but for environmental and social reasons. The problem is not so much about the fuel and compatibility with the machinery; it is more a lack of education and a lack of awareness.”
Biodiesel is user friendly. “The biodiesel itself is less toxic than table salt and more biodegradable than sugar,” explains McInnis. “When diesel engines were first invented by Rudolf Diesel, they were actually built to run on peanut oil.” Later, they were modified to run on petroleum diesel for economic purposes. “It is coming around 360°.”
McInnis explains that economics favor a decentralized approach to biodiesel production, since it costs quite a bit to truck in feedstocks to manufacture the fuel and then transport it to its final destination. “Our equipment allows us to have smaller scale production in communities,” he says. Cutting the external costs associated with the logistics makes it more viable.
“In the South, we don’t have the luxury of being next to a large plant,” says McInnis. “We are the only contractor in this area I know of that makes a portion of its own fuel. You can’t go to a gas station down here and get B20. It isn’t retailed.”
Making biodiesel with the Springboard Biodiesel system has proven simple. “The machines we have are all stainless steel,” says McInnis. “They are very durable.”
There are different size systems depending upon how aggressive you are at making fuel. “Our systems are heavily automated. For 100 gal. of fuel, theoretically, it would only take you 1 1/2 to 2 hours of human involvement. The machine does the rest,” McInnis indicates. “You can make 100 gal. in 16 hours, but you have to be there only two of those hours.”
This is the third year McInnis Construction has used biodiesel. “It averages out over the years at B20,” says McInnis. “We are not seeing any significant problems. The biodiesel is more lubricated than petroleum diesel. It keeps everything lubricated. It runs slightly better. It runs quieter.” Low-sulfur diesel is dry and hard on the engines. “If you compliment it with a 20% biodiesel blend, it works well because you have a lubricated fuel and a non-lubricated fuel that you are blending together.
“I know that contractors are really watching their budgets, but it is a good long-term investment and it is something that adds a little more stability to the business model,” he asserts. “It goes beyond the day to day. It is important to think a few years ahead and get that return on investment if you are planning on staying in the industry. Government contracts really like to see that you are thinking outside of the box.”