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Pit Stop Paradise

The SeQuential fueling station in Eugene, Oregon, looks like any other gas station from a distance, but after pulling up to one of their bright yellow fuel pumps, it becomes apparent that the station is unique. The SeQuential station, located on McVay Highway, is 30 percent more efficient than other gas stations according to Alan Twigg, former station manager. Solar panels are used to produce over half of the store’s needed electricity. A passive heating and cooling system was also implemented along with a living roof comprised of 4,000 indigenous, drought-tolerant plants. “Oils and other pollutants that drip from vehicles on to the concrete are washed into bioswales during rain storms,” said Twigg whose voice seemed to energetically heighten as he described the sustainable elements of the fueling station. The bioswales divert pollutants from the Willamette River, trapping them in soil where specific plants begin to break them down.

The store sells goods from dozens of individual vendors, the majority of which are local, including pastries from Sweet Life, beer from Hop Valley, Oak Shire, Caldera and Ninkasi breweries, and fresh seasonal produce from local farms.

When searching for an alternative resource for diesel fuel, Twigg and Ian Hill, two of the founders of SeQuential , asked two questions: what is the product made from, and how is it made. The product needed to be renewable, non-toxic to the environment, locally made and affordable for customers. Recycled cooking oil fit the description. The initial plan incorporated restaurants from across the Northwest and the leftover cooking oil from their fryers. The oil would be collected and turned into 100 percent biodiesel compatible for nearly all diesel engines. Today, the station sells 100 percent used cooking oil-based biodiesel as well as 85 percent ethanol fuel made from recycled fruit materials and regular gasoline.

Photo courtesy of SeQuential

SeQuential is the largest community scale biodiesel company in the Pacific Northwest and its processing plant produces over six million gallons each year from recycled cooking oils. When it comes to the collection process, participating restaurants from across the Northwestern United States are given large containers to fill with used cooking oil that is picked up on a regular basis by SeQuential’s collection division.

Over 7,000 restaurants across the Northwestern United States sell their oil to SeQuential, said Gavin Carpenter, director of policy and business development for SeQuential. After draining oil containers from Eugene restaurants, SeQuential delivers the oil to its processing plant in Salem, Oregon, where it is converted into diesel fuel. According to Twigg, the conversion process is simple and yields very few byproducts. “The glycerin used to break down the oils is recycled and sold to other companies,” said Twigg, “and instead of using water as a base for the process, we use silica gel which is much more efficient and results in no waste water pollution.” SeQuential recycles the silica, turns it into fertilizer and sells it to local farmers. Another byproduct of the conversion process is methanol, which is recycled after each use and set aside for the next batch. Once the biodiesel is ready for consumers, it is distributed to more than 70  fueling stations in Oregon and Washington.

Much like any energy conversion process, turning cooking oil into diesel fuel costs money. Without state and federal incentives, many alternative fuel companies wouldn’t be here today. In 2005, the national Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Program was developed to increase the volume of renewable fuel that is added to petroleum based fuels. According to credible information published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 878 million gallons of biodiesel were sold in 2011. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the RFS are working under the Energy Independence and Security Act to increase renewable fuel consumption by 36 billion gallons per year by 2022. This increase will be partly due to federal and state tax incentives available for residents and retailers. Tax credits are also available for businesses that manufacture and sell biofuels.

While cooking oil seems to be a relatively strong competitor for biofuels in Oregon with its sustainable nature, benefits for restaurants and farms, and competitive prices, it is designated for diesel engines, which are used by approximately three percent of the population.

“Every passenger diesel vehicle in this area as well as some of the trains and trucks could be switched over to recycled cooking oil-based biodiesel,” said Twigg as he considered the population in Eugene that is dependent on diesel and how much cooking oil is available. However, there is not enough cooking oil to fully support all of Oregon’s driving population. “The future of energy is not going to be a silver bullet,” said Twigg, “it’s going to be a little bit of solar and wind power, a little bit of electric cars, used cooking oil-based biodiesel and fruit waste-based ethanol, as well as biking, and public transportation.”

The SeQuential station on McVay Highway in Eugene, OR has much more to offer than the typical gas station. Photo courtesy of SeQuential.

In 2005, SeQuential sold diesel from a metered biodiesel pump strapped to the back of a Ford F250. According to Twigg, the truck drove around Eugene delivering biodiesel to a variety of customers. “We’d park the truck downtown and people would show up and fill up their cars.”

Currently, the SeQuential  fueling station is a frequent destination for locals. According to Twigg, Eugene’s mayor, Kitty Piercy frequents the station as well as Oregon’s 37th Governor John Kitzhaber, Congressman Peter DeFazio, Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and members of the Lane County Economic Development program. “We have between 600 and 700 customer transactions taking place every day,” said Ashley Peterson, the station’s current manager. That’s an average of 200 more daily customers stopping by to fill up on gourmet sandwiches, local goodies and biofuel than in 2013.

“I love fueling up here,” said Alex Cuyler, Intergovernmental Relations Manager for Lane County. While Cuyler doesn’t have a diesel engine, the unique environment of the station, friendly service and competitive gas prices keep him coming back.

“I love SeQuential! It is worth the drive for the plants on the roof, the bioswales and the Sweet Life peanut butter cookies,” said Megan, a local fan of the station, “We called my car stinky because it was old and a little moldy and smelled on the inside, but when I drove around, it smelled like french fries from the restaurant oil biofuel.”

All photos courtesy of SeQuential.

July 22, 2015

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