First biodiesel station in Alameda County offers recycled vegetable oil

Apr 27, 2004 02:00 AM

BioFuel Oasis, the first biodiesel station in Alameda County, doesn't have a pump or those handy packaged wet wipes for your hands like a typical filling station. There's no squeegee to wash your windshield. And no place to buy coffee.
What BioFuel Oasis of Berkeley sells is biodiesel and nothing but biodiesel -- recycled vegetable oil from restaurants and potato chip factories that's making a second appearance as an alternative fuel. Available in only 10 retail spots in the state, biodiesel powers any car or truck that will run on diesel, including any Mercedes Benz, old Volkswagens and new Volkswagen TDIs and trucks, said BioFuel Oasis founders Jennifer Radtke, 33, of Oakland and Sara Hope Smith, 37, of Berkeley.

At $ 2.90 a gallon, the fuel still isn't cheaper than gas. But it's far better for the environment, producing 50 % fewer emissions than standard diesel, studies show.
"It's a little more expensive, but it runs clean and I find that it performs in the engine. I have a little more torque," said biodiesel user Michael Caldwell, who sells cars and drives a 2002 Volkswagen Golf Turbo Diesel GL. Caldwell averages about 40 miles to the gallon with biodiesel, far better than what a similar car with a gas engine gets, he said.

In January 2003, Berkeley became the first city in the nation to convert to biodiesel for 200 municipal cars used by fire-fighters, police, Health and Human Services workers and Public Works crews. Earlier, the US Environmental Protection Agency awarded the city the "environmental award for outstanding achievement" in efforts to protect the environment.
Biodiesel is generally made from domestically produced vegetable oil, often soy oil. Some biodiesel users claim the fuel gives off an aroma like French fries or donuts. Radtke said it smells "like an oil fryer."

Studies show that burning biodiesel significantly reduces the impacts on global warming, smog and asthma. The cleaner-burning fuel produces 80 % less greenhouse gasses than gasoline.
"It's simple: You can touch it, it's non-flammable, it's really safe. It's this totally amazing thing to use as fuel," Radtke said. "It's totally unlike anything you think of as fuel." But even in the green and clean Bay Area, biodiesel isn't widely available.

According to Radtke and Smith, both members of the Berkeley Biodiesel Collective, and a check of www.biodiesel.org, the site of the National Biodiesel Board, there are fewer than a dozen retail fuelling sites in California. Golden Gate Petroleum in Martinez and Western States Oil in San Jose both provide biodiesel to the public.
"We want to make biodiesel a legitimate alternative for whomever -- for soccer moms, for business people, for anyone whose values are aligned with ours, and who thinks it's the right thing to do," Smith said. "One of the factors (for supporting biodiesel) was we are going to war for oil. That does not compute in my sense of logic," added Smith, who runs an after-school program and does landscape gardening when she's not workingat BioFuel Oasis.

Both women drive cars that run on biodiesel. Although the partners said they are only "covering their rent" with the money they're making, greenbacks can be had in sustainable fuel, said Pat O'Keefe, vice president of Golden Gate Petroleum, a fuel distributor.
"Compared to regular petroleum, it's a very small demand," O'Keefe said. "But our volume seems to be doubling every year. But it still has a long way to go. It's a small portion of our business." O'Keefe said there is enough demand for his company to open a second retail outlet in Richmond this summer.

Radtke and Smith hope to install a pump this summer and generate more business. For now, they sell the biodiesel in 5-gallon plastic "carboys." The women are currently working to secure city permits and raise a few thousand dollars to upgrade the business. To that end, they have designed a "founding members program" to fill the piggy bank.
"Our founding members program is our answer to non-venture capitalism," Smith said. Adonation buys a spot in the "founding members program," the chance to autograph a future pump, a founding members membership card and a keepsake bottle of boutique biodiesel, possibly in a rosemary or cilantro flavour.

Source: MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers
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