Biofuel Oasis: Empowering Alternative Fuel Use

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Running your car on biodiesel fuel is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. BioFuel Oasis, a women’s collective/owned business in Berkeley, offers not only fuel, but a level of expertise and service you haven’t experienced in a fuel transaction in years.

Biodiesel is made from vegetable oil, normally from soybeans. You can grow the beans to produce the oil, but the most environmentally conscious way is to use recycled oil from restaurants. Because diesel engines have much higher compression than gas engines, they can burn a range of fuels, including the stuff they use to cook French fries.

Vision of a better way.

In 2003, Jennifer Radtke and a partner had a vision of creating a place where customers could obtain pure, 100 percent biodiesel (B100) in a healthy environment. By the end of the year, they had secured a 1,000-foot warehouse space in a light industrial zone in West Berkeley. They began dispensing fuel in five-gallon portable containers (carboys), and after nearly a year of building permit negotiations, opened their first pump.

Originally a partnership, the business became a worker-owned cooperative when three more women joined in 2005. Worker-owners spend about 80 hours a month at the station and have hands-on experience with everything to do with running a vehicle on biodiesel.

With success from their hard work, the business outgrew its location. So, this spring, it moved to a prime location on Ashby Avenue at the corner of Sacramento. The worker/owners assembled a team and totally remodeled the classic 1933 fuel station that was there, poured new concrete, and installed two fine new pumps. Above them are gorgeous trellises, made from recycled wood, that hold solar panels to provide electricity for the pumps.

Unlike today’s faceless corporate gas stations, where bored clerks sit amidst the air fresheners, cigarettes and junk food while you pump your own gas, the BioFuel Oasis is oriented towards healthful living. You can learn about not only biodiesel but also urban gardening, chicken ranching and alternative ways of travel, including bicycling and walking.

When I visited, I saw beekeeping supplies, a salt lick, racks of books and information, T-shirts, and much more. Moe Beitiks, who was working the shift that afternoon, handed me a copy of Not a Gas Station, a book by cofounder Radtke about the founding of the business. A good read, it also includes helpful information on establishing and running your own biodiesel station.