By Heather Mullinix
Don Demko has a goal of turning the Eco Travel Plaza on Genesis Road in to an energy neutral business. That's a daunting task but recent sustainable and environmentally conscious upgrades have the travel plaza on its way to meeting that goal.
"We want to be the cleanest travel plaza in the nation. We have many of the tools we need, but we've just began," Demko said Wednesday during an unveiling of the Truck Stop Electrification equipment that has been installed. The equipment, both plug-in equipment and AireDock systems for truck window heating and cooling, are available on 50 parking spaces at the truck stop just off Interstate 40 on Genesis Road. The TSE equipment will allow truckers to heat and cool their truck cabs and run appliances without idling the trucks and wasting fuel.
Demko has been the owner and operator of the travel plaza for about 2-and-a-half years. Prior to assuming operations at the location, he had no background in the fuel, convenience store or food businesses. In his first day in the parking lot, he came to realize he was part of a vilified industry, considered a part of "Big Oil" and part of the reason the country depends on foreign oil production for energy needs, he said.
"And the trucks don't get great mileage. They're noisy. They vibrate and there's a smell, so it contributes to air pollution," Demko said. "There wasn't much good that I could see."
Soon after taking over the operation, he learned about anti-idling technology and how it could save fuel and reduce emissions. Working with East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition, Demko applied for an Environmental Protection Agency grant to install TSE equipment at all 50 of the site's truck parking spots. He worked with the vendors, AireDock and ShorePower, to increase savings on the project.
"But the units still require electricity," Demko said. "With the EPA grant, we had an opportunity, but we wanted to be more creative. We chose to add to the benefits of anti-idling technology with further reduce emissions by replacing grid electricity with solar."
Eco Travel Plaza worked with LightWave Solar Electric LLC to design a 35 kilowatt solar array system on the fuel canopies. The energy produced is returned to the energy grid, offsetting some of the business's energy needs.
"We use a lot of electricity and we wanted to do more. But we didn't have room on our site for more solar panels or wind, so we couldn't produce more energy," Demko said. "We decided to cut what we use."
An energy audit was performed to identify the biggest energy users on the site and the cost to improve efficiency. LED lighting replaced inefficient florescent lighting under fuel canopies and, with the new name Eco Travel Plaza, LED lighting was used in the new sign. LED lighting will be installed throughout the facility, indoors and out, in the coming months.
With anti-idle equipment saving about 1 gallon of diesel fuel per hour, it is estimated Eco Travel Plaza could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 21,818 tons over the next 10 years and reduce nitrogen oxides by 337 tons and particulate matter by 10 tons.
Those figures represent only 50 percent utilization of the TSE equipment available.
As Demko says, he's an optimist. His next project is to educate truck drivers and trucking companies on the benefits of using TSE. Currently, many trucking companies will not reimburse drivers the cost of using TSE though it can save $1 to $2 an hour per truck. Trucks will use about 1 gallon of diesel fuel an hour when idling.
"It's inconceivable," Demko said. "The major operators haven't embraced the technology."
In addition to the environmental benefits and lower costs, Demko said TSE reduces wear and tear on engines, extending engine life, and allows for drivers to get better rest without breathing fumes and being shaken.
Manager Chris Smith said, "The drivers that have tried the units really like them. They sleep better. There's less money, less oder and saves money."
Drivers purchase time at the TSE units through a kiosk inside the convenience store. It provides a receipt for the driver's records. In addition to powering HVAC units and appliances, Eco Travel Plaza also offers WiFi on the site.
The project was a collaboration between Eco Travel Plaza, East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition, the EPA, Tennessee Solar Institute, United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development, BP Oil, the National Association of Truck Stop Owners, AireDock, ShorePower and Crossville Dairy Queen. The grants required a significant investment on the part of Eco Travel Plaza and Demko recognized Pathway Lending in Nashville for its assistance and willingness to help bring the project to fruition.
With the TSE project complete, Demko and the staff are looking to more environmentally friendly projects. Water conservation projects have been installed to provide automatic shut-off faucets, waterless urinals and water pressure reducers. Onsite recycling of paper, glass and plastics as well as batteries, cell phones and chargers. Eventually, Demko said the site would be a permanent recycling center for electronics and technology that cannot be put in landfills and recycling cooking oils for local biodiesel production. Eco Travel Plaza will also provide two charging stations for electric vehicles in coming months.
In addition, the business is hoping to help impact the health and well being of its customers, particularly truck drivers, by offering a wide selection of healthier drinks, snacks and meals with products that are low fat, low sugar, low sodium and low calories. Also offered will be products that are gluten-free or lactose-free for those with food allergies or sensitivity.
Demko said Eco Travel Plaza will be the site for Crossville Eco Expo in August.
To learn more about Eco Travel Plaza and its initiatives and progress, visit www.ecotravelplaza.com.