This summer at least three major food retailers made news for actions designed to lessen the environmental impact of their trucking operations:
Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., announced last month that all of the 79 big-rig tractor-trailers used to deliver food to stores in its Arizona division will operate with cleaner-burning B20 biodiesel fuel, a blend of 20% pure biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel.
In July, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, acknowledged that its fleet of 100 trucks will incorporate a fuel additive that improves fuel economy — DiesoLIFT from International Fuel Technology, St. Louis — following a four-month field test.
For being the first company in the United Kingdom to run a fleet of battery-powered zero-emission home delivery vans in one marketing area of its Tesco.com home shopping site, Tesco received the Grand Prix Online Green Award in July from the Interactive Media in Retail Group, London.
These and other retailers and wholesalers are demonstrating that, while the bulk of their “green” activity has focused on in-store operations, there is much to be gained in terms of both environmental benefits and cost savings by taking a different approach to their trucking fleets.
Of course, retailers have long been searching for ways to cut their transportation costs, such as backhauling or simply shipping goods more efficiently. For example, by making sure that its store-bound trailers are filled as completely as possible, Meijer, Grand Rapids, Mich., has reduced the number of deliveries it makes. Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., has reduced its number of store deliveries by studying the unique delivery requirements of each of its 907 stores.
But as more retailers and wholesalers attempt to reduce their “carbon footprint” and thus their contribution to global warming, more attention is being paid to the trucks themselves — their design, usage and fuel consumption.
Some retailers, such as Wal-Mart Stores, H.E. Butt Grocery and Hannaford Bros., are working with the Environmental Protection Agency in its SmartWay Transport Partnership. (See story, this page.) The program requires companies to measure the efficiency of their freight operations with EPA-developed tools that quantify the benefits of a number of fuel-saving strategies.
As part of its participation in SmartWay, Hannaford, for example, has integrated new aerodynamic tractors into its fleet, installed on-board computer systems, reduced tractor idling and used B20 biodiesel fuel in its warehouse yard tractors.
Safeway, which has adopted a wide-ranging corporate program to curb its impact on the environment, expects its Arizona biodiesel program to cut its annual output of carbon dioxide by 3,603 metric tons, the equivalent of taking 780 passenger cars off the road.
“We are proud to be a leader in Arizona in helping find new ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve energy,” said Dan Valenzuela, president of Safeway's Arizona division, in a statement made to the Tucson (Ariz.) City Council. “By using cleaner-burning biodiesel for our entire fleet of trucks, we hope to make a positive impact and help protect the environment.”
Made from vegetable oil or animal fat, biodiesel is non-toxic, biodegradable, domestically produced fuel that can be used in diesel engines (usually in combination with petroleum-based diesel fuel) with little or no modification to the engine. In addition to reducing net carbon dioxide emissions, use of biodiesel results in a substantial reduction in emissions of carbon monoxide, sulfur, hydrocarbons and diesel particulates.
Moreover, according to a University of Minnesota study, soybean biodiesel returns 93% more energy than is used to produce it, while corn grain ethanol — increasingly used in gasoline blends to fuel automobiles — provides a net return of 25% more energy.
Use of biodiesel in the U.S. jumped from 75 million gallons in 2005 to 250 million gallons in 2006, according to the National Biodiesel Board, Jefferson City, Mo. The NBB projects that 300 million to 350 million gallons of biodiesel will be used in 2007 in the U.S.
NBB spokeswoman Amber Pearson said the growth in biodiesel usage has been driven by a federal tax benefit for producers equal to $1 per gallon of biodiesel blended with regular diesel, as well as by the growing interest in diesel passenger vehicles. With the tax break, the price of biodiesel blends is about the same as that of regular diesel.
In July, DPI Specialty Foods' Midwest Division, Arlington Heights, Ill., a wholesaler of deli, bakery, gourmet and ethnic foods to supermarkets, restaurants and other outlets, began using soybean-based B11 (consisting of 10.1% biodiesel and 89.9% regular diesel) in its 30 trucks, both in the truck engine and the refrigeration engine.
DPI pays no Illinois sales tax for the biodiesel blend, saving the wholesaler between 12 and 18 cents per gallon compared with conventional diesel fuel, said Andrew Kramer, president of DPI's Midwest Division. DPI selected the B11 blend because it does not freeze in the winter, allowing it to be used year-round, he added.
“We're doing this because it is the right thing to do for the environment, not for economic reasons,” said Kramer, though he acknowledged the company will be saving money as well.
DPI's other four divisions are looking into using biodiesel, though it is not always widely available in other regions of the country. “It's more plentiful in this market,” Kramer said, adding that DPI still needed to hunt for a supplier. “There's not a lot of demand yet for biodiesel,” noted Gene Hamilton, DPI's vice president of operations.
DPI's biodiesel supplier, PetroAlliance, based in Apex, N.C., replenishes its fuel tank every three days, blending the biodiesel and regular diesel on-site. DPI's trucks sometimes refuel at gas stations, which are increasingly offering biodiesel fuels.
Though biodiesel is sometimes criticized for detracting from a truck's fuel economy, Hamilton has not seen a drop-off in his fleet's fuel mileage. According to the NBB's Pearson, blends of B20 and lower experience a negligible loss of mileage. Biodiesel also helps to lubricate truck engines while keeping the engines cleaner, Hamilton noted.
Another question raised about biodiesel is its stability. However, the NBB states that there have been very few field reports of stability-related problems with B20 and lower blends in the U.S. as long as the fuel is used within six months and meets standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
Last December, Tesco announced that it would be running three-quarters of its 2,000-truck fleet in 2007 on B50 biodiesel, which consists of 50% biodiesel. However, most auto, engine and fuel-injection equipment companies in the U.S. “strongly discourage” the use of biodiesel blends over B20, according to the NBB.
Among its many environmental initiatives, Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., is aiming to increase the fuel efficiency of its trucking fleet by 25% by the end of next year and by 100% by 2015. According to an Associated Press report in July, Wal-Mart has already boosted the fuel efficiency of its 7,000-truck fleet by 15%, a savings of $50 million annually. In June, the company's efforts qualified it as a “superior environmental performer” by the EPA's SmartWay program.
One of Wal-Mart's moves last year was to install auxiliary power units — small, efficient diesel engines — on all trucks that make overnight trips. “Our drivers can turn off their truck engines and rely on the APUs to warm or cool the cabin and run communications systems while on breaks,” Wal-Mart said in a report on its logistics operations. “In a single year, this change should eliminate approximately 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, reduce our consumption of 10 million gallons of diesel fuel and save the company an estimated $25 million.”
According to the Associated Press article, Wal-Mart has also used a fuel additive mix and more fuel-efficient tires to achieve its 15% efficiency gain. In its logistics report, the company said it is “working with major truck design companies such as ArvinMeritor, Peterbilt and International to develop diesel hybrid trucks and aerodynamic trucks that will help us achieve our efficiency goals.”
Kenworth Truck Co., Kirkland, Wash., began selling a limited number of medium-duty hybrid diesel-electric trucks this year, with plans to go into full production next year. Above 30 mph, the hybrid operates like a standard diesel vehicle, but under 30 mph it switches between diesel and electric power. Electricity is generated through braking and used in acceleration. The truck is designed for “pick-up and delivery operations,” said Kenworth spokesman Jeff Parietti.
Still another alternative to conventional diesel is liquefied natural gas. H-E-B is converting its entire Houston-based trucking fleet to “clean-burning” liquefied natural gas, according to its website. The Texas retailer also limits idling time on its trucks to five minutes or less, reports the EPA on its SmartWay website.
Meanwhile, Schnucks is using a fuel additive that during a field trial improved the fuel economy of its diesel engines by about 6%, said Kevin Redell, Schnucks' fleet maintenance manager. “We have started using [the additive] and will do so for at least the next year.”
Redell observed that the additive also serves as a lubricant that helps cut down on injector failure caused by the introduction of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel. Federal regulations called for a switch to the low-sulfur diesel last October.
Fuel additives are often viewed with great skepticism, acknowledged Stuart Beath, chief financial officer of International Fuel Technology, supplier of Schnucks' additive. To counter that viewpoint, International Fuel put its additive through a series of tests at independent testing facilities around the world.
Food retailers and wholesalers interested in measuring and improving the fuel efficiency of their trucking fleets — and gaining access to a group of like-minded third-party trucking companies — may wish to join the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's free SmartWay Transport Partnership.
Established in 2004, SmartWay currently comprises 617 shippers and trucking companies. Food retailer members include Hannaford Bros., Meijer, H.E. Butt Grocery and Wal-Mart Stores.
“SmartWay is trying to create a demand for cleaner transportation,” said Mitch Greenberg, manager of the SmartWay program.
SmartWay offers members a free downloadable software tool with which companies can benchmark the fuel efficiency and emissions levels of their fleet. The user inputs fleet data — number of trucks, miles traveled, gallons of fuel used — as well as the type of fuel-saving technologies being used. “This gives them a baseline of existing environmental performance,” said Greenberg.
The tool also allows users to project future fuel savings “based on the technology they are interested in adding,” he said.
On SmartWay's website (www.epa.gov/otaq/smartway), Gerry Greenleaf, vice president, distribution and transportation for Hannaford, was quoted as saying that SmartWay's measure of success/impact has helped the chain “reinforce that we are doing the right things that make a difference for our environment.”
SmartWay tries to post success stories on its website showing how its members used technology to improve fuel efficiency. “When big companies like Wal-Mart say we tried these technologies and they saved us fuel, it's easier for the EPA to say you should use the technologies as well,” said Greenberg.
Among the technologies promoted by the SmartWay program are idling reduction systems, auxiliary power units, aerodynamic packages for tractors and trailers, hybrid engine systems and wide-base and roll-resistant tires.