By Dave Soref
If you’re ever on busy Ashby Ave. in Berkeley, California, you’re bound to notice the little gas station with the fresh flower–framed sign that says “BioFuel Oasis.” It looks a lot like your ordinary corner gas station, with two self-serve islands and a minimart, but the pumps don’t sell gas; they sell biodiesel. And the minimart doesn’t sell candy; it sells composting worms and kombucha starter kits.
To get the lowdown on the BioFuel Oasis, I stopped by for a chat with one of its worker-owners, Kelsey Howard, who pulls a couple of hay bales down from a ten- foot stack in the back lot and welcomes me to sit down.
It’s remarkably easy to use
biodiesel on “regular” engines.
“We don’t actually make the biodiesel ourselves,” Howard says, in answer to my first question about where they source the fuel made from spent cooking oil. “We get weekly deliveries from our producers, which go into our 8,000-gallon tank located right behind these hay bales here.”
Anticipating the next question, Howard explains that it’s remarkably easy to use biodiesel on “regular” engines. “Any car made after 1996 that runs on diesel fuel can be run interchangeably with biodiesel,” he confirms. “For cars before 1996, it’s a relatively simple conversion of a couple of fuel lines.”
Can it really be that uncomplicated? There has to be a catch, right?
A small one. “Biodiesel will begin to gel once the temperature drops below 35 degrees. So if you’re going to drive in a colder climate, you have to blend it with standard diesel fuel to thin it out.”
That’s all there is to it. Biodiesel can be put right into the tank, mixed in with regular diesel or without. The hard part is the time, effort and mess involved in collecting, filtering and storing the used cooking oil that biodiesel comes from. What BioFuel Oasis offers is the convenience of pulling up to the pump, using a gas card to fill ’er up, and then driving off, just like a traditional self-serve transaction, except with exhaust that smells like fried zucchini.
Here’s Where It Gets Even Cooler
BioFuel Oasis was started in 2003 by a group of dedicated Bay Area women intent on providing greater access to a renewable source of fuel. The DIY spirit and commitment to supporting local endeavors like backyard farming were always important to the founders in their personal lives, and when they realized no one in the area was selling organic chicken feed, they decided to offer it at the BioFuel Oasis storefront.
As the idea of backyard chicken keeping grew in popularity, they began stocking more supplies, and ultimately offering classes in how to raise backyard chickens. Those classes were well received, and others soon followed.
“We have gardening classes, classes on fermentation, cheese making, how to grow your own mushrooms, and an entire series on beekeeping.” Howard says. “Also, we just started doing a greywater class that teaches things like how to take your laundry water and divert it to your yard. That’s become really popular here due to the drought.”
Howard then leads me to the bathroom to demonstrate an example of BioFuel Oasis’s own greywater reuse. “The hand-washing station is based on a Japanese design,” he explains. “The water you use to wash your hands goes into the back tank of the toilet and will fill the bowl the next time you flush.”
On a related note, Howard points out the solar panels atop the self-serve island overhang. “That totally offsets our power costs, and any excess that we don’t use goes back into the grid.”
As local demand for sustainability increases, BioFuel Oasis will continue being there for the community. In the meantime, BioFuel Oasis is there, hiding in plain sight, waiting to be discovered by its newest customer.
If I owned a car, I’d fill ’er up at BioFuel. Or maybe I’ll just take the beekeeping course instead.
For more information, make a pit stop at biofueloasis.com.