Company to test green fuel in trucks

Local franchise taking part in national trial

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

A Williston business will help roll out a national alternative fuel program that could lead to cleaner and greener trucks worldwide.

Aaron Fastman, owner of the local 1-800-GOT-JUNK? outlet, will be among 10 franchisees scattered around the country to fuel their Isuzu trucks with biodiesel. In addition to standard diesel, the formulation contains fuel derived from renewable resources such as soybeans, recycled cooking oil or animal fat.

An ardent environmentalist, Fastman said he repeatedly urged his company to use alternative fuel in its trucks to lessen the company’s impact on the planet.

“I really pushed for it, I kept being persistent,” Fastman said. “I really believe we have to change.”

Isuzu and 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, a company that makes house calls to pick up customers’ discarded items, recently launched the biodiesel test program. For six months, participating franchises will each run a truck on the fuel. Isuzu will monitor the trucks and cover under warranty any problems.

Todd Bloom, vice president of sales and marketing for Isuzu’s commercial truck division, said the idea is to closely study how the trucks perform using the fuel and check how well varying formulations work.

“The biggest problem is the quality of the fuel,” he said. “The whole goal of the program is to get everybody involved with setting a standard.”

He hopes that program and other initiatives will lead to regulation and standardization of the alternative fuel so that automakers can manufacture vehicles designed to run on it.

Fastman said as a small business he could ill afford to risk a $50,000 truck without assurance Isuzu would cover the vehicle under its standard 36,000-mile, three-year warranty. Using biodiesel, which can clog fuel systems, would ordinarily void the warranty.

In addition to the Williston franchise, other 1-800-GOT-JUNK? outlets in California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania will participate, said company spokeswoman Jennifer Maloney.

The van at corporate headquarters in Vancouver was the first 1-800-GOT-JUNK? vehicle to run on biodiesel. Maloney said the company, already on the lookout for ways to go green, was nonetheless pushed to move more quickly by franchisees like Fastman.

The company collects junk from customers who call the eponymous 800 number to schedule a pick-up. About half of the refuse is recycled. The Williston franchise, the company’s first and only Vermont location, is one of more than 270 in North America.

1-800-GOT-JUNK? provides an ideal laboratory for Isuzu. Maloney said the company requires franchise owners to purchase a specific Isuzu truck model. There are more than 1,000 of the vehicles in use company-wide.

Franchisees were asked if they wanted to participate in the biodiesel program, she said. Roughly two-dozen franchises applied.

With the general public increasingly aware of global warming, companies have been emphasizing their green credentials as a marketing tool. While acknowledging the public relations value of the biodiesel program, Fastman said his and his company’s involvement comes out of genuine concern for the environment.

“It truly was a green company before it was fashionable to be a green company,” he said. “We keep stuff out of the landfill, which is why I got involved with this. It’s another ingredient in this great pie that we are baking.”

The program will use a formulation that includes 5 percent biodiesel in the winter and a 20 percent blend in the summer, Fastman said. Higher concentrations are prone to freezing, hence the change in percentages depending on the season.

The fuel costs about 10 cents a gallon more than standard diesel, but Fastman said because it produces slightly better mileage biodiesel ends up being no more expensive to use.

One problem is that biodiesel is not widely available. The closest supplier is Lucky Spot Variety in Richmond. Only a few other gas stations in Chittenden County sell the fuel on a retail basis, according to the Vermont Biodiesel Project, a renewable energy initiative.

The biodiesel program is expected to begin next month, after Isuzu representatives visit 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchises to check each truck.

Fastman excitedly described the potential ripple effect of the test, which he said could lead to widespread use of alternative fuels in one of the world’s leading manufacturers of trucks. He hopes that eventually it would result in “every single Isuzu in the world” using renewable fuel.

Though one truck running on alternative fuel will have a miniscule effect on the environment, Fastman said that knowing his truck is using biodiesel will “make me sleep better at night.”

“I have a 10-month-old son,” he said. “I don’t want to leave him a mess when he grows up.”