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Biofuels are a necessary tool for converting the currently used automotive technology to a renewable, sustainable source.
Happy Solstice from Holy Solar! This year has seen an amazing growth of alternative energy, real action from Washington and credible promises of much more to come from what may prove to be the administration which solves the energy crisis.
We’ve been away for a couple of months performing seasonal agricultural work on the Coast, and just now completed our regular migration to the Southwest. The price of biodiesel has not been as fast to fall as it was to rise, and remains up to twice the retail of petro-diesel.
Fortunately, we were able to navigate the 1000 miles of highway without resorting to dinosaur diesel, thanks largely to the four fueling stations we depended on, and several contributing riders. By pooling fuel costs, were able to complete the trip at a personal cost of $.15.mile.
We made our usual stops at the Biofuel Station in Laytonville and the Real Goods pump at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland (map). The BioFuel Oasis in Berkeley (map) saved our schedule by staying open late (8pm) and by selling easy-to-use 5-gallon jugs. This extended our range to cover the distance to Los Angeles non-stop, where ConservFuel provided the best price and hours of the entire journey.
The bad news came a few days later-ConservFuel in West LA, where we had just purchased 47 gallons, was discontinuing biodiesel. For those who travel long distances on biodiesel as well as local consumers, this essential oasis has been the only 24-hour provider of B99 in Southern California.
This was the e-mail we received from Kent at Socalbug.com:
The owner of the ConservFuel Station in West LA/Brentwood has decided to stop selling biodiesel !!!
See the explanation on the http://www.conservfuel.com/ website.
Write Dansk a letter and or email them @ firstname.lastname@example.org include email@example.com ( Kris Moller ) as a cc: in your email.
However don’t be too harsh, we do not want them to get sour on biodiesel as Dansk also owns the Palisades Gas-N-Wash which is still selling biodiesel.
Do your part to keep biodiesel for sale at ConservFuel.
Write your letter, spread the word and take action.
Here is what we had to say about it:
Dear Biodiesel Providers:
We were most saddened to hear of the closure of the biodiesel pump at Conserv fuel, especially after our recent fill-up just last week, when we purchased what will apparently be our final tank of hard-to-find biodiesel there.
On our seasonal trips from Arizona to Oregon, Conserv is a critical stop. We usually arrive at odd hours and the end of our tank. I honestly do not know how we will manage our next trip, as there is a huge void of biodiesel throughout that stretch of 1-10.
Many people do not understand why we use biodiesel, even when petro-diesel is cheaper. There are many reasons, from socio-political, to environmental, but the at the bottom of it all is a belief that biodiesel is a superior alternative which must be supported even at a higher cost. We are not wealthy people, but there is no compromising on this for us. We resort to petro-diesel only in the gravest emergencies, when there is literally no possibility of obtaining biodiesel.
We are cognizant of the difficulty of maintaining an unprofitable product, but urge your reconsideration of this move. The year has been a turbulant one for fuel prices, and next year may become more so. Biodiesel may again become a strong and profitable product as breakthroughs in algae and jatropha feedstocks swell supplies.
Please be aware that this closure is a major inconvenience, not merely to the local population of committed biodiesel users, but to travelers on the nation’s highways who lack other oases of supply. This issue is quite serious; we are quite literally stranded without a 24-hour station.
We may not have been contributing to your company’s coffers as well as consumers of cheaper fuels, but biodiesel users are dependant on the West Hollywood B100 pumps, and without them, the journey toward a greener future is detoured.
We urge your reconsideration.
Holy Solar Alternative Energy Bus
And we were pleasantly surprised to see this response:
After careful reconsideration and deliberation, Dansk Investment Group has decided that the loss our valuable biodiesel customers is not worth the potential increase in profits that would be gained by switching to the lower cost diesel #2. In large part, due to the numerous, well articulated emails we have received regarding our customers reaction to our removal of biodiesel, Dansk has decided to bring back biodiesel (B99) to Conserv Fuel in West Los Angeles!
Your emails are testament to the exceptional loyalty that Conserv Fuel biodiesel patrons have demonstrated regarding your commitment to purchase biodiesel. Conserv Fuel will once again continue to be the sole retail supplier of biodiesel (B99) in the greater Los Angeles area. Please note that our higher biodiesel sales price relative to diesel #2 is due to our higher wholesale supply costs. There is currently a lack of biodiesel supply in California which has resulted in biodiesel selling at a premium price to diesel #2.
We appreciate you taking the time to express your sentiments and would like to inform you that your voices have been heard. We understand that your loyalty to Conserv Fuel is linked to our supply of biodiesel, so we will be switching back to selling biodiesel (B99) hopefully by December 20th, 2008. We will keep you updated on our return to biodiesel at www.conservfuel.com
We appreciate you for your continued support
Dansk Investment Group, Inc.
Ours was merely one of many letters that surely led to this reversal, and this demonstrates the importance of expressing the importance that alternative energy makes in our lives to those deciding whether to provide it.
If you use biodiesel in LA, or expect to ever need to, please send a brief letter of thanks to the folks at Dansk Investments…and stop by the ConservFuel station to fill up often once biodiesel is restored there on December 20.
Dansk Investments & SoCal Bug jointly share this weeks “Green Leap of Faith Award” for believing in biodiesel through these rocky times.
ConservFuel can be contacted through email at firstname.lastname@example.org
They are open 24 hours a day, located at
11699 San Vicente Blvd
West Los Angeles, Ca 90049
(Click for directions to ConservFuel)
To find directions and more information about biofuel stations and availability in your area, Holy Solar recommends consulting NearBio – www.nearbio.com
Flying the Earth-Friendly Skies
Biofuel enthusiasts have been saying for a long time that the sky is the limit for organically-based, sustainable transportation solutions. Now, that barrier, too, seems to have been rapidly passed. With the announcement of the world’s very first organically produced aviation fuel from micro-algae, San Francisco biofuel pioneer Solazyme may have helped solve the missing link in the alternative energy puzzle.
The new jet fuel, which is made from algal culture grown in vats from a sugar medium, addresses the enormous global issues tied up with petrochemicals as fuel for flight, just in time for the sixth anniversary of the Word Trade Center destruction. This development comes on the heels of tests earlier this year by Virgin Airlines, which has since moved its program to Europe.
There is tremendous philosophical significance in this announcement, as it heralds a time in the near future when air travel which does not have the political or environmental implications of fossil fuels so candidly illustrated by that devastating event. Jet fuel is an energy cost hidden to the average consumer, who generally only feels the impact indirectly as part of airline fares.
With this innovation, it has now become technically feasible to power every sector of industrial, transportation, and residential electrical needs, all by means of a renewable energy source. This is a milestone to give a little cheer about, and that it has been accomplished in so little time should serve as encouragement to those of us concerned with a sustainable energy policy.
The process will still need some perfecting, and the political will to wrest lucrative jet fuel contracts from the oil companies may be in shorter supply than oil itself. Nevertheless, we are seeing again and again that Nature offers an answer for a post-petroleum revolution.
The Holy Solar crew trucked down to Hopland, California, for the annual SolFest celebration at the Solar Living Institute & left with this song and video.
Solar Living Experiment
For those of you who’ve never been
It’s so amazing as to be a sin
Right along scenic highway one-oh-one
There’s a magical place, mostly about the Sun
We’d heard about the Redwoods, so we came to see,
What it felt like to be under all of those trees
We weren’t the first to hear their call
Hundred foot Redwoods dwarfing any wall
Under their canopy you might feel a little small
Until you give one a hug and feel part of it all.
With towering trees and ancient ferns
Restoring the forest each time it burns
Once again, we’re headed down to the Solar Living Institute in Hopland California to take part in the annual Solfest gathering. For those who are not familiar, the Solar Living Institute is one of the most active and established sites using green technologies and earth-friendly land strategies since 1998.
Associated with the Real Goods Eco-store, the Solar Living Institute is one of our favorite places on Earth. Featuring the largest array of solar panels in Northern California, SLI’s Solar 2000 module grid produces more than 160,000 kilowatt hours of power annually. Since 2003, anyone traveling Highway 101 has been able to top off their biodiesel tank while visiting this historic landmark of the future.
A leader in alternative energy information, SLI sponsors ongoing workshops in the Bay Area and along the North Coast throughout the year, but SolFest brings together speakers on topics from straw bale building construction and permaculture to biofuels and windmills.
And, of course, solar energy. The entire event will be powered by the many solar panels which adorn the venue year round, and experts in grid-tie applications, tax incentives, and off-grid solar photovoltaics will be making presentations, as well as being on hand to answer questions.
Year-round interns care for and eat from the organic farm and permaculture displays, leaving with an intimate knowledge of Earth-friendly techniques to bring into a world in desperate need of solutions. Each year, the volunteer staff joins them to help produce a zero-waste event using all-natural biodegradable plates, bottles, and utensils.
We’ll be volunteering there as well as signing up folks for our new newsletter- which will be launching sometime next week with our experiences and inside view of the event. We’ll also be trying to get a hold of a video recorder so that we can make a brief documentary about SLI, Real Goods, and SolFest, hopefully with interviews and some good shots of one of the most innovative villages on Earth.
*The Solar Living Center picture was provided by anotheremily
We are proud to announce that the production of this site is now completely solar powered, as our two computers currently run off of our recently installed Unisolar Thin Film solar panel, which soaks up light like a sponge and allows the two of us to write and design to our hearts content, without using fossil fuels or depending on grid power.
Frankly, we’re pretty excited about it. Our hardy road-boat, Mahayana (which means “The Big Vehicle,” a type of Buddhism), has sailed the highways for over two years under the faint scent of French fries from the biodiesel she drinks with glee. Adding a solar panel to our array of alternative energy was a logical next step, but we found suppliers and information to be shockingly scarce…which is part of what motivated the construction of this site.
As the great Bobby Weir still sometimes sings, “it’s all too clear we’re on our own.” Switching to alternative energy made us amateur electricians for a few days, with an emphasis on amateur. Neither of us had a lot of experience in drilling and wiring, but there was no choice but to learn the basics. Installing a solar panel on the bus brought this home, and fortunately we had the time and patience to carry it off without mishap.
The first task, of course, was choosing the right panel. We went with the Unisolar model for several reasons. First, unlike its vulnerable mono-and-polycrystalline counterparts, the ThinFilm technology is considered “unbreakable.” Of course, you shouldn’t take a sledgehammer to any solar panel, but the manufacturer asserts that it can sustain normal impact without damage.
There will surely be many unplanned tests of this claim as we travel, so we’ll let you know what parking stupidities the Unisolar has survived, or-perish the thought-failed to. Physical damage to the panel is definitely a risk in the wooded regions we travel, so we wanted the most durable design available.
The second reason we chose the Unisolar 64 has to do with how it collects light. The amorphous solar panel design is much more efficient in partial shading than panels composed of serial cells, which can fail to perform if even a portion of the panel is in shadow. In fact, the charge indicator light shows that the Unisolar is passing current to the regulator, even in complete shading on an overcast day.
The downside to the Thin Film style of collector is that the surface is not as efficient as other types of panels per square inch, which means that our 64 watt panel has the physical dimensions (about 54″ X 30″) one normally associates with grid-tie panels of 100 watts or more. The ES series is versatile and is perfect for auxiliary power on boats, RVs, and remote work trucks as well as residential grid-tie and even massive megawatt arrays.
For us, the slightly larger surface is no disadvantage at all, as Mahayana has ample roof space and room for two more such panels should we ever need them.
In the next post, we’ll describe the DIY installation process, what we learned, a few helpful tips for those of you considering going solar, and links to all the equipment you’ll need for personal energy independence, with a little help from nature.
It feels wonderful. Thank you, old Sol!
Get the Unisolar Thin Film and other solar panels from Real Goods.
Twice each year, the ambient clime and bi-regional commitments demands that we set sail, following the wise birds to where the climate suits our clothes. More in the style of turtles than our flying feathered friends we drive our mobile headquarters and bed-quarters along with us.
In January, after touring Oregon and Washington, we departed Northern California and arrived in Arizona on 99+% biodiesel, purchased at a maximum of $3.99/gallon. We were gratified to establish that blends of at least B-99 were available at regular enough intervals to allow transit between the Canadian and Mexican borders without resorting to petro-diesel.
This summer, our northbound trip promised to be expensive. With roughly 1300 miles to traverse, we knew that the price of petroleum would be affecting the biodiesel market. The bus was parked in the desert with a tank nearly full of B99 in March, when the price was $3.23. On May 30, topping off at the same station, the rate had risen to $4.65, which turned out to be the lowest price of the entire journey.
The problems didn’t end there. Our trip was affected by two outages: At Western States Petroleum in Parker, where a wholesaler or fleet had apparently bought out the supply, all 350 gallons. Unfortunately for us, we’d gone 30 miles out of our way and had no other choice but to purchase a few gallons of diesel petro-gunk. Important lesson learned: phone ahead for availability and hours before committing to a route on long-term bio-diesel trips. Be sure to verify the blend as well; several times along the way we learned that only B-20 was available where biofuels were advertised.
We were finally able to get biodiesel in posh West Hollywood after rearranging our course. The at-pump price of $5.39 is the highest we’ve paid for any type of fuel anywhere; even a $20 donation on the spot scarcely eased the pain of the $175 tank fill-up. We were paying 60 cents a gallon more for bio-diesel than we would have for petro, which seemed to be an odd choice on a budget. This is pure profiteering, but a definite sign that supplies need to shift away from soy and other food sources toward technologies like algae for diodiesel and cellulose alchohol for ethanol.
The change in plans put us out of reach of our Santa Monica fill-up, so we shook things up and brought Mahayana, the big vehicle, on her first ride along the Pacific Coast Highway so we could refuel in Monterey, since we weren’t sure the tank would hold out until Santa Cruz. Those of you who have taken scenic Highway 1 know that it is a slow, curvy, oftentimes nerve-wracking two-lane exercise in zen driving, but the trip up the coast went well despite some cabin sickness and an overly aggressive honey-bee.
Santa Cruz brought the second disappointment: Pacific Biofuels, a promising supplier, had closed its doors a week earlier. This didn’t really affect our plans, since at that point we still had a healthy tank from our Monterey fill-up, but finding their doors closed contributed to the dark outlook we were starting to develop on the future of bio-fuel in the heart of alternative culture.
Arcata rounded out the changes in California, where the tank has been removed from the only mainstream station in Northern California, a Texaco on Somoa. We were hardly even surprised at this point; changes are to be expected at every turn and edits on every list in the volatile market in California.
Footprint Recycling was just a hop down the highway, but the overall impression is that, instead of making headway with mainstream consumers, biodiesel is being bought out by fleets who have depleted the supply and inflated the price at the expense of consumers.
The picture is somewhat rosier in Oregon, where SeQuential Biofuels maintains several very attractive and well-supplied alternative fuel stations, complete with E85 a full dollar cheaper than local gasoline.
Biodiesel was just under $5, which we’d already gotten used to. This seemed interesting in light of complaints about ethanol contributing to food shortages. If this were so, it seems that, like their biodiesel counterparts, gasohol products would be costlier than the petroleum equivalent.
All in all, the obvious message of our coastal trip is that the supply of biodiesel is falling far short of the demand, especially with fleets buying it up for their 20% blend. New methods must be implemented, and immediately, if organic alternatives to petroleum fuels are to become practical for the majority of drivers.
Donate to our biodiesel fund: