Fueling Green Machines

calogoheader.gifSeptember 2008 — Co-op America

As reported in our fuel-ranking chart in a recent issue of the Co-op America Quarterly, the use of virgin materials for biofuels can’t be a sustainable replacement for our society’s reliance on fossil fuels. Waste oil for fuel, however, is another matter entirely, and is one of the very best sources of fuel available today.

margaret98wThat’s why BioFuel Oasis has had a commitment to selling fuel produced in the greenest way possible – from waste – since the very beginning. We asked Margaret Farrow, one of the worker-owners at BioFuel Oasis to tell us more about recycling used restaurant oil into fuel, and about Biofuel Oasis’s future plans, including their construction of a new all-solar facility landscaped by indigenous edible and medicinal plants.

Co-op America: What does your business do?

Margaret Farrow: The BioFuel Oasis is a Biodiesel Fuel station. We have been selling high quality biodiesel in the San Francisco Bay Area since September 2003. We also have a small store that sells healthy snacks and sustainable living supplies.

What makes your business green?

Margaret: Biodiesel is a cleaner burning fuel. It is nontoxic and biodegradable. It has far fewer
harmful particulates than diesel and fewer toxins than diesel or gasoline.

Unlike petroleum fuel, tailpipe emissions from biodiesel do not contribute to global warming.
To maximize the potential environmental benefits of biodiesel, we specialize in selling locally produced fuel made from recycled restaurant oil.

What did you do before you started your green business?

Margaret: I worked as a museum exhibit fabricator and construction worker. Also, I learned how to weld at my local community college, allowing me to get an apprentice position working for a local metalworker/artist. Around that time I read Joshua Tickell’s “From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank.” A light bulb lit up in my head! I thought it was amazing that it was possible to make fuel at home from used restaurant oil. And the fact that it was better for the environment and human health sealed the deal for me. So I decided to fabricate a small biodiesel processor. That put me in contact with the women at the Biofuel Oasis.

What have been some of the biggest challenges of maintaining high standards of social and environmental responsibility?

Margaret: We’ve made a commitment to source fuel made from recycled vegetable oil. There’s a lot more biodiesel made from “virgin” or unused oil out there. And often that fuel is cheaper or just a lot easier to get. So I think we definitely work harder, and generally pay more for the recycled fuel. Also, since opening, our workers usually need to continue working a second job of some sort. Biodiesel is something people do because they feel strongly about it; not because there’s much profit in it.

What’s been your proudest moment as a green business owner?

Margaret: It’s really fun when people come in for the first time and are really excited. Some people even photograph or take footage of their first time fueling up. Plus, Willie Nelson came in once.

What is the most hopeful sign you’ve seen recently in the green economy?

Margaret: The consumer is very informed. Topics that used to be considered “fringe” such as global warming or GMOs are now mainstream. Also, as far as biofuels are concerned, I am very happy that people are coming out against biofuel production that relies upon destruction of ecosystems or disrupts food production. Biofuels are potentially better for the environment, but whether or not they are depends on how they were produced/distributed.

What advice would you give to green entrepreneurs just starting out?

Margaret: Diversify the products or services provided. Often times “green” alternatives, like organic produce, cost more than conventional items. Having more ways to make a profit can help you weather leaner times.

What’s the next green step you’re working on right now?

Margaret: The Biofuel Oasis is moving to a New Location in the fall of 2008. We are transforming what was originally a 1930’s gas station into “The Most Sustainable Station in the Nation”. Our station will be solar powered, have all edible/medicinal plants landscaping, and will allow us to expand our Urban Farming workshop program and supplies store. And of course we will continue to be a source of recycled oil biodiesel for the Bay Area.

What green product could you not live without?

Margaret: My bicycle.

This story originally appeared the September 2008 edition of Co-op America