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Home arrow Blog arrow 4/18/07-BERKELEY, Drive up, swipe your card and pump -- biodiesel

4/18/07-BERKELEY, Drive up, swipe your card and pump -- biodiesel PDF Print E-mail
Written by Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer   
Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Behold the filling station of the future.

Coming soon to Ashby Avenue in Berkeley, it will look a lot like a regular corner gas station, with credit-card operated pumps, air and water hoses, a convenience store and long hours.

But the four well-lit pumps will be solar powered, the convenience store will sell chicken seed and organic lemonade, and the pumps will dispense nothing but biodiesel.

Biofuel Oasis, a Berkeley biofuel retailer, plans this summer to open the Bay Area's first public filling station dispensing pure biodiesel at the corner of Ashby Avenue and Sacramento Street. Open 7 a.m. to midnight seven days a week, it should save time for the Bay Area's ever-increasing flock of biodiesel drivers, who now have to wait up to an hour to fill up at Biofuel Oasis' one-pump warehouse in West Berkeley or drive to a membership co-op in San Francisco during its very limited hours.

"We think this is going to bring biodiesel to a whole new level," said Melissa Hardy, Biofuel Oasis co-owner. "Although we like to think of this as the anti-gas station."

The city is expected to grant Biofuel Oasis' application for a use permit to take over the former 1920s-era gas station, that for the past 15 years has been an auto-detailing business.

"It's consistent with our green business scheme," said the city's economic development director, Michael Caplan. "We're trying to encourage green businesses, and it's nice to see these kinds of businesses popping up in different parts of the city. This is a neighborhood that will really appreciate it."

The Bay Area is home to about a dozen other biofuel suppliers, but most are collectives that require members to work a few hours a month and are open limited hours. Biofuel Oasis, a for-profit, worker-owned business belonging to six women, sells biodiesel to "anyone who pulls up," Hardy said.

When the business opened in 2003, there were only a handful of drivers brave enough to pour something other than petroleum products into their car engines. But since global warming has become front-page news on nearly a daily basis, thousands of Bay Area drivers have turned to clean-burning biodiesel for their car fuel.

Biodiesel is refined vegetable oil that can run in any diesel engine. It sells for about $3.65 a gallon and gets mileage similar to petroleum diesel -- 30 to 50 miles per gallon, depending on the car.

Biodiesel Oasis has about 1,900 customers, half from Berkeley and Oakland and half from other parts of the Bay Area. Because the business is open only a few hours a day and has only one pump, waits of 45 minutes or more are common. Customers pass the time lounging on a red velvet couch and browsing the convenience shop, which sells organic snacks, fuel filters and books on sustainability. At least one couple met while waiting in line at Biofuel Oasis and are now engaged to be married, Hardy said.

The warehouse pump at Fourth Street and Dwight Way will remain open, but the red couch will move to the new station, Hardy said. The convenience store will expand as well to stock items for "urban homesteading" such as beekeeping supplies, organic fair-trade coffee, herbal cola, chicken seed, locally baked vegan cookies and organic lemonade.

Although business is booming, the Biofuel Oasis collective is not getting rich, Hardy said.

"It's just like a regular gas station," she said. "We're making pennies on the gallon. All money comes from the minimart."

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