A few years after Brian Deninger and Jolie Ginsburg took over tour company Incredible Adventures, they decided they didn’t want to contribute to the smog problem in Yosemite National Park. So they purchased a couple of diesel Ford E-350 vans and filled up on biodiesel as much as possible — though the biodiesel market in 2003 had little infrastructure and an inconsistent product.
Despite the growing pains as early adopters, “It was more important for us to be running as clean as we could than looking at the bottom line,” Deninger says.
Deepening their commitment to alternative fuels, the couple took over Dogpatch Biofuels in 2010, which allowed them to fuel their tour fleet at wholesale prices as well as sell to local fleets through its retail station in San Francisco.
Today, the tour company runs single and multiple day tours to national parks in the West using 26 Ford passenger vans running on biofuels — as much as possible — and recently switched to a renewable diesel blend for fueling and retail sales.
Dollars and Sense
Buying a retail biodiesel station isn’t obviously in the cards for most fleets looking to go green. However, for those investigating biofuels that don’t have retail fueling near them, “I tell them to look at installing a tank in their yard,” Deninger says.
Dogpatch Biofuels came with an 8,000-gallon aboveground tank onsite, which serves the Incredible Adventures fleet and retail fleet customers. Dogpatch does bulk and “wet” (onsite) fueling for fleets, which can bring a fleet’s alt-fuel spend closer to the cost of petroleum diesel.
For Dogpatch’s retail customers, the per-gallon price of biodiesel generally fluctuates with petroleum diesel, from five cents below diesel pump prices to 15 cents above locally, Deninger says.
Dogpatch recently switched its supply agreement to Renewable Energy Group (REG), which produces a blend of 80% renewable diesel and 20% biodiesel.
Deninger and Ginsburg’s companies could take advantage of RIN (Renewable Identification Number) credits, which are generated and traded based on the production of renewable fuels. Deninger decided against playing the market for profit. “We’re too small and to manage them is too much,” he says.
Spreading the Word
“Powered by biofuels” is inscribed on the tour company’s website, brochures, and vans, which leverages the sustainability message and generates positive word of mouth with clientele. Tour guides are trained to communicate the green initiative and salespeople talk it up to potential overseas tour clients.
Deninger surveyed a recent tour in person: “Of the 20 people on the vehicle, about half knew prior to the trip that we use alternative fuels whenever we can,” he says. “The other half was pleasantly surprised and I think it made them feel good about their buying decision.”
The emphasis on reducing emissions has helped the company’s relationship with national parks and with bids for local municipalities, which sometimes hire Incredible Adventures for public works projects and tours.
"We switched to renewable diesel to be as green as possible," Deninger says.
Deninger says the company has looked at electric vehicles, but the technology has yet to provide the range needed for tour operations. “That will come in time, but as far as the cost of (an electric) vehicle right now and the availability of the vehicle to do it, it’s just not in the market yet,” he says.
Unlike other alternative fuels and power, both biodiesel and renewable diesel don’t require an engine upgrade.