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Oakland’s first renewable fuel station opens in downtown

The renewable fuel station that has just opened in downtown Oakland.

Oakland is now one of ten cities in California to host a renewable fuel station. The station sells both biodiesel and E85 ethanol fuels. In the six days since its opening, Aug. 23, the renewable fuel station saw around 40 customers, according to Mark Prentice, Propel’s spokesperson.

Sanjiv Pacel, one of the owners of the gas station, said this is a “pretty good number to begin with.” He expects more people will use the renewable fuel station as word gets out about its opening.

“There is a huge demand in California,” said Prentice of the two alternatives to gasoline that Propel offers.

Located at the Chevron station on Grand Ave. in downtown Oakland, it is owned by Propel, an American clean fuel retailer.

According to Propel’s website, its renewable fuel stations provide both E85 ethanol and biodiesel. E85 ethanol is a mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline derived from the fermentation of starch and sugars in plants such as corn and switch grass. Biodiesel is a fuel made of 100% renewable resources such as soybeans, canola and mustard seed. While biodiesel is compatible with any diesel engine, E85 ethanol must be used with a Flex Fuel vehicle, a car with an engine that is able to use both gasoline and ethanol. A list of compatible vehicles can be found on Propel’s website.

The biodiesel and E85 ethanol pumps at the newly opened renewable fuel station in downtown Oakland.

In general, the Flex Fuel vehicles available are versions of a car company’s most expensive models. For example, Toyota offers three Flex Fuel SUVs, all models with the largest fuel intake (5.7 liters, as opposed to 4.6) and with 4-wheel drive, driving up the price of the vehicle. This does mean, however, that there is no additional cost between the regular gas tank and the Flux Fuel tank.

This price increase is offset by E85 ethanol prices.

According to Prentice, the Oakland Propel station was selling E85 ethanol for $2.49 per gallon in the last week of August. This was about 80 cents less than traditional fuel costs.

The renewable fuel stations also open up new markets for their location partners. By creating a partnership with independent gas station owners, Propel hopes to make using renewable fuels as convenient as using traditional ones.

“I think the future is in renewable fuels,” said Pacel, who partnered with Propel in order to delve into the new market of environmentally friendly fuels.

“It makes sense for drivers,” said Prentice. “Until recently, people haven’t had a choice at the pump.”

Signs show the difference in price between gasoline and renewable fuels.

Drivers will soon be getting even more opportunity to choose at the pump. According to Prentice, Propel has received a 10.9 million dollar grant from the US Department of Energy in order to expand its enterprise.

“This grant brings a new choice to Californians looking to do their part to reduce our nation’s dependency on imported oil and help meet the state’s emission reduction goals,” said Matt Horton, CEO of Propel Fuels, in a statement released on August 31.

A recent press release stated Propel’s plans to build a total of 75 renewable fuel stations across California with its grant and $16 million of its own investment. There are currently Propel fuel stations in San Jose, Fremont and the Oakland location, with a new station opening in Berkeley.

These fuel stations, referred to as “clean fuel points,” are themselves built to be environmentally-friendly, according to Propel’s website. The clean fuel points are designed to be small enough to fit onto already-developed land, such as currently existing gas stations. The stations also use recycled aluminum for rain canopies.

The new fuel station is a bit of a mystery on Mills campus, however.

“This is actually the first I heard about the fuel station, so unfortunately I don’t have a comment other than to say that this is great news!” said Christina McWhorter, Mills College’s garden coordinator, in an e-mail.

A few Mills students take advantage of renewable fuels such as biodiesel.

“I have been delighted with my biodiesel experience,” said Sienne Wildwind, a sophomore at Mills, in an e-mail. “My biodiesel is safe to handle and store, it is non-toxic and is made from used oil like waste from chip factories and such. I love biodiesel!”

Wildwin drives a Volkswagen from 2004 and has been purchasing her biodiesel from the BioFuel Oasis in Berkeley.

“I’ve not even heard of this place in Oakland until now. I’ll be sure to check it out but I’m loyal to the Biofuel Oasis,” she said.

Louise Leck, a senior at Mills, owns a 2003 Volkswagen Jetta. She has been using biodiesel as well, but has run into some problems with the fuel.

“In the beginning we had fuel filter problems until we figured out algae was growing in the fuel tank” said Leck. She plans on her next car being electric.