We sat down with Chris Biellier, Vice President, Environmental & Waste Solutions Divisions & Strategic Partnerships at Seneca Companies, to discuss the value of being a Leighton O’Brien partner. Seneca Companies is a leading multi-faceted service provider to customers in the US fueling industry. It offers a complete solution from project design and planning to maintenance, service, parts distribution and compliance. It has 10 locations throughout the Midwest, Southern and Mountain Regions with a service area spanning 18+ states. Seneca is a valued Licensed Service Partner (LSP) of Leighton O’Brien’s fuel restoration and cleaning technology.
Why did you become a Leighton O’Brien fuel cleaning LSP, and how has the partnership evolved?
In around 2009 we were starting to see more Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) and ethanol blends entering the market, but it took a few years for issues to present themselves. It was then that the topic of fuel quality started becoming more prevalent.
Ultimately our customers – particularly large c-store chains – drove us to move into fuel restoration as they were experiencing, in some instances, catastrophic failures including phase separation causing an emergency shutdown. They said, “You need to help us figure this out.”
We started scoping the market and then Leighton O’Brien (LOB) approached us. They did a pitch, and we did some customer demos. We wanted to enter the industry quickly because we knew it was a growing market need, and we wanted to be at the front leading it.
We were attracted to LOB because their system was already tested and proven in markets globally. We looked closely at the LOB process from not just a mechanical perspective but a scientific one. We could see that other systems were propulsion units, where the fuel is agitated to stir up the sediment which increases the filtration time.
We took on two LOB systems in 2014 and now have five units doing more than 1,200 cleans per year from California to the East coast.
The LOB process combined with our fuel chemistry knowledge and understanding of the tank environment builds trust with our customers. They see us as the experts to maintain the health of their tank.
What are the key market drivers for fuel cleaning solutions?
Until fuel composition changes to be more tolerant of problems like water and bacteria, these issues will continue to exist. In fact, the push for cleaner fuel standards and ageing fuel systems will keep fuel quality top of mind for fuel retailers.
It is pleasing to see more and more customers adding fuel quality into their preventative maintenance budgets to address issues before they become catastrophic.
We do about a 50/50 split on cleaning gas and diesel tanks, each with their own issues. Gasoline tanks blended with ethanol are susceptible to phase separation when water enters the fuel system, and diesel tanks are prone to enhanced corrosion due to the presence of bacteria nurtured also by the presence of water – even in small amounts in the tank bottoms. In short, water is the catalyst. There is always a new contaminant that customers bring to us. The industry will continue to evolve in its knowledge of fuel quality components of how it affects tank health.
What value & benefits has Seneca derived from the partnership with LOB?
The partnership has allowed us to add a complementary high value service to our overall offering. Cleaning is a very strategic part of our business. It allows all our divisions to touch our largest customers, providing a complete solution. It is a very synergistic fit and attractive tool in our toolbox.
What attracted us the most is customers can continue selling fuel while the cleaning process is taking place. With hose in, hose out methods, you must shut dispensers down as the fuel being drawn up through the dispenser is being disturbed. Smart customers know what it costs for every hour a pump is down.
The other key difference is LOB’s settling tank on the unit. There is a real misconception that one fuel company is the same as the other. Not true. We sweep the bottom of the tank versus hose in, hose out methods which stir up particles and suspends in the fuel. The LOB method gently removes the heavy sediment and stores the fuel in the settlement tank. Recoverable fuel is then returned to the tank as sellable fuel.
Being part of LOB’s distributor network also allows customers that have a broad geographic footprint to have their issues addressed in a consistent way using the same technology approach. One of the biggest complaints from our big customers is they are using several different fuel restoration providers, so it is hard for them to compile data on the efficacy of the fuel polishing burden they are incurring.
Companies that grow and excel are those willing to adapt to changing market needs. I am constantly educating myself in this space. It is great to have a true partnership with Reed Leighton and the team, which has allowed our cleaning offering to be successful.
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