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San Francisco opens first commercial B20 biodiesel station

Hybrid B20 fuel can be used in most diesel vehicles without engine modification. Photos: San Francisco fuels up on biodiesel

SAN FRANCISCO--The city of San Francisco is moving to make its grease more green.

The city's first commercial B20 biodiesel refueling station opened Tuesday at an Olympian fueling station in an industrial neighborhood known as Dogpatch. B20 fuel is a mix of 20 percent recycled biomass--mainly oils--and 80 percent traditional diesel fuel. The advantage of B20 is that most commercial diesel vehicles can use it without any modifications to the engines.

The station's opening is critical to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's plan to convert the city's entire fleet of diesel vehicles to biodiesel by the end of the year. Thus far 39 percent, or 539 of a possible 1,500 vehicles, have made the switch to B20, he told a crowd of reporters, environmental activists and city officials. Next on the list is to convert the city's public bus system to B20.

The alternative fuel is made out of grease collected from businesses, public utilities and restaurants around the city and converted to B20 diesel. That process is seven times more energy efficient than converting petroleum to regular diesel or even growing crops to turn into biodiesel, said Jeff Scott, the Environmental Protection Agency's waste management director for the Pacific Southwest.

Newsom said he hopes other cities will get on board.

"It's not that difficult," he said. "There's no excuse, if I may be so brazen, for other cities not to follow our lead."

The Olympian fueling station is the same site of the first B100, or pure biodiesel, station in North America, which first opened in 2001. It was in business for just two years before it was shuttered in favor of an ultra-low sulfur diesel station, which at the time was considered an alternative fuel, and more economically viable, said Randall von Wedel, a biofuel consultant who helped open the biodiesel station on both occasions. The B100 station made about $3,000 per month, and an ultra-low sulfur diesel station can bring in $3,000 per day, he said.

Walt Dwelle, owner of the station, thinks the prospects are better this time around. "Though the volume is small, we think the demand is high," he said. Right now, the average price of one gallon of B20 biodiesel costs $3.15 wholesale, but companies operating such vehicles are eligible to receive $1 per gallon in federal tax credits, essentially bring the price down to $2.15 per gallon, just 10 cents above the average price for a gallon of traditional diesel.