Fueled for the future

Written by Emily Battmer

Thanks to the innovative use of alternative fuels like natural gas and biodiesel, DFA and its partners are now able to power their fleets while protecting the environment.

DFA-owned Oakhurst Dairy, based in Portland, Maine, conducts business with sustainability in mind. As its slogan suggests, the company is dedicated to providing, preserving and enhancing the “Natural Goodness of Maine,” a concept Oakhurst management has taken to heart.

“As our late president, Stan Bennett, said many times, ‘Oakhurst cows literally breathe, eat and drink the Maine environment, so we have a commitment to that environment’,” says David Green, Oakhurst’s fleet and facilities manager. “That was the driving force behind his work.”

Green has been with the company for 28 years, and he says that being environmentally aware has always been a top priority for Oakhurst Dairy. Green has often been involved in these efforts, searching for eco-friendly technology to incorporate into his fleet.

In 2004, the governor of Maine issued the Governor’s Carbon Challenge, a voluntary carbon dioxide emissions reduction program. The goal was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2010. Oakhurst Dairy leapt at the opportunity and was one of the first corporations to sign up for the challenge. Green says it was up to him and the plant manager to meet the goals.

That’s when Green began reading about biodiesel, a fuel alternative that is manufactured with vegetable oils, recycled cooking grease or animal fats. By 2006, Green had made his first biodiesel purchase. He started with a 5 percent blend, and then gradually transitioned the fleet to 20 percent biodiesel.

“At that time, the price was 10 to 15 cents per gallon higher than diesel, but our president was willing to do that,” Green says.

But being forward-thinking was not without its challenges. The company originally used a soy-based animal fat product. Through trial and error, Green says they quickly discovered that any time the temperature dropped below 40 degrees, this product would cause the fuel filters to become clogged. They couldn’t use a high blend when the weather was cool, and so from 2006 to 2010, the company could only use a 5 to 20 percent biodiesel blend, depending on the market price.

“We blended as much as we could afford at the time,” Green says.

Oakhurst wanted to do more. In 2010, Green says he stumbled across a local supplier called Maine Standard Biofuels, which produces biodiesel from locally sourced, used restaurant kitchen oil. Maine Standard Biofuels delivers the biofuel directly to its customers, and the fuel is produced less than 10 miles from Oakhurst Dairy’s processing facility.

“They were a startup, and so we got really creative as far as partnering with them,” Green says. “We very quickly became their largest customer.”

The following year, in 2011, Oakhurst Dairy purchased 77,000 gallons of biodiesel, which they blended with regular diesel in their fuel tanks. In 2012, that amount nearly doubled to 135,000 gallons, and rose to 138,000 in 2014.

Since making the switch, Green says they have eliminated the quality issues they were having early on. The partnership with Maine Standard Biofuels has allowed Oakhurst to decrease its diesel fuel emissions up to 70 percent annually while reducing total fuel costs.