Biofuel Station and Hummer H2

Propel Fuels' new E85 station in Oakland

I decided to spend a few hours at a gas station near my place in Oakland today. It was for work, of course. The occasion was the grand opening of a biofuel station by Propel Fuels, a startup that has gotten $10.9 million from the federal and state governments to build 75 stations in California by the end of 2011. You can see my story, with a photo slide, in Earth2tech here.

I have never stopped by a flex fuel station before, partly because I hardly ever drive by one. That’s a problem for policy makers and companies promoting biofuels – consumers aren’t going to invest in flex-fuel cars if they don’t think they can have easy access to fuel. I spent some time talking to Matt Horton, Propel’s CEO. Matt said by 2012, half of the models built by American auto makers will be able to run on flex fuel (a blend of ethanol and gasoline). I was surprised to hear that.  Here is a list of carmakers currently making flex fuel cars.

I’ve learned that the term “flex fuel” refers to gasoline blended with ethanol. But biodiesel, which also often comes as a blend, isn’t called flex fuel. I thought that was confusing. I’ve heard complaints about a lack of consumer awareness about flex fuel cars and stations. Well, sticking with “biofuel” or another easy term to describe various gasoline blends would be helpful.

Before the ceremony began, I spied a man with a Hummer H2 fueling up at the Chevron station where Propel’s fuel pump is located (Propel rents the space from the Chevron station owner). There was something funny about seeing a gas guzzler showing up before a series of speakers were set to talk about the importance of cutting gasoline consumption. You can see the Hummer and the biofuel pump in the photo above you.

I chatted with the Hummer’s owner. Fueling up the Hummer costs $120, he told me. He likes to take his wife and kids in the 7-seat Hummer to a cabin in the Sierra foothills. The car is like a tank, and driving it must be fun. But I can’t afford it, nor do I want it if I could afford it. Seeing the car reminded me of a story about an environmental organization in San Francisco that got a Hummer by mistake from the rental car agency. Members of the organization were going on a retreat.

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