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June 2, 2012 7:40 AM   Subscribe

The gas station of the future? With ten million in venture capital and more that twenty million in dollars in grants, the fueling station of the future does not offer electricity or natural gas.
posted by vozworth (38 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
"...is considering adding natural gas pumps and battery recharging to his stations in the future when the market matures." I sort of get why you chose that approach, but realistically he'sd chosen to offer things like public transit information and "Hey did you know your car can run on alternative fuels" so I don't think this is an anti-electric car thing as much as a "we had to pick a few things and these were the things we picked" That said, I'd love to read more than a BW puff piece on this idea. Here is the Propel Fuels website and a link to their 30-ish locations.
posted by jessamyn at 7:47 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"...like the Apple Store of the alternative energy market."

If that's what it takes, man. Still though, I don't really see how gasoline, ethanol, and biodiesel are really "fuels of the future" in any long-term sense. Gasoline is just going to get more and more costly (not to mention it's environmentally ruinous, as we all know) and ethanol and biodiesel rely on industrial agriculture and the replacement of food crops with fuel crops -- hardly a sustainable practice on a global scale, though they may be sustainable niche fuels in the long term.

The rest of that stuff -- bike tuneups, transit schedules, fancy carbon-tracking software and all that -- is just V.C. bait and is either silly, dubious, or useful but would probably be better outside of the context of a gas station.

But hey man, it's the Apple Store of alternative fueling! That's great. I'm sure it does a great job of making a handful of people insanely rich while making a bunch of other people feel like they're better than everyone else because their fuel is a) more expensive and b) comes from a shiny Future Pump that tells them how much carbon they're saving by filling their car with corn-grown, oil-fertilized, soot-producing bioethanol.

Heckuva job, guys! Now let's see if we can't make three hundred and fifty percent growth next year!
posted by Scientist at 8:03 AM on June 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


Biofuels aren't currently the answer. This isn't worth the investment, and givent hat petrol stations have been closing steadily over the last couple of years, the business model doesn't seem that attractive.
I quite like the approach Mazda is taking with the new Skyactiv range across all models (not just the premium cars) where they are trying to make the engines more economical than hybrids. The internal combustion engine will be with us for quite a while, let's make it as efficient as possible.
posted by arcticseal at 8:12 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"...like the Apple Store of the alternative energy market."

The conspicuous difference is the Apple Store can delete whole product lines and introduce products that make them obsolete. I think Jobs said something like, "if someone's going to cut into our market share, it should be us."
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:15 AM on June 2, 2012


Scientist, you make good points but the gas station seems to be technology agnostic, it's offering biofeul because there are many cars available for it, today. It's a logic fallacy to say that because biofuel is bad therefore a new type of gas station is bad - they are focused on offering a range of fuel which is exactly what the future will be as we find alternatives to oil. If biofuel is what gets this type of gas station installed and accepted by a skeptical public, it actually has done a great service. Then in the future it will be easier to transition to greener fuels (and BTW some biofuels can be very green).

Not to derail this thread but some other good news: One day in May, Germany produced over 50% of the entire countries power using renewable energy, the equivalent of 22 nuclear power plants. Germany has shown that the technology exists now today to do whatever the hell we want, it's just a question of politics really. Imagine where Germany will be in 10 years. Imagine Germany's highway system in the 1930's, and that's sort of the situation today, everyone else is decades behind riding on pot hole dirt roads.
posted by stbalbach at 8:16 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nah, this is the gas station of the future. Sequential Biofuels is already way ahead of them and Propel didn't even manage to copy what is already being done. And their stations are actually a pleasant place to go, with good coffee and places to sit and pretty good food.

But the best part of them is that they are actually taking control of the production and producing their own biofuels.

They also have electric slots for cars.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 8:17 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Saw an electric charging station for the first time a few weeks ago in the parking garage at my wife's office. There were three of them but no cars connected at the time I was there, not sure how much they get used.
posted by octothorpe at 8:23 AM on June 2, 2012


Last month, the chief executive officer of Propel Fuels opened the country’s first station where drivers can pump gasoline, ethanol, and biodiesel, cyclists can get tune-ups,

Yeah, the Sequential Biofuels station was years earlier--it opened in 2006--and they have large solar-panel arrays, but I guess technically the above statement is true if you include bike tune-ups.
posted by eye of newt at 8:37 AM on June 2, 2012


The electric charging stations in the garage where I work are all continuously occupied - there's a whole line of Leafs and one Volt that use them. It's actually inspired me to work on converting a gas motorcycle to run on batteries, so I can take advantage of it and not have to burn fuel on my commute.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:37 AM on June 2, 2012


If biofuel came exclusively from agricultural waste, without being a net minus due to manufacturing and refining costs, instead of coming from vast swaths of land being repurposed from food production, and taking large amounts of traditional energy to refine, I'd get behind it. All it currently does is shuffle the waste cycle around a bit, and land-use wise, is probably a large net minus. We've only got so much arable land, and that concerns me.

I'm not happy with the petro-status quo, but the bio fuel shell game is not the answer in its current incarnation.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:38 AM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


not sure how much they get used

Why? All it takes is three people who work in the building with plugin hydrids to fill up the spaces. Given how common those vehicles are today, and how cheap electricity is compared to gasoline, those slots will fill up fast.
posted by stbalbach at 8:41 AM on June 2, 2012


Biodiesel isn't just from crops, you can use used cooking oil and convert it. You used to be able to go around and ask for it from restaurants, but most of them sell it now. Not sure about the Cummins and GM diesels, but the current Ford diesel allows for a 20% biodiesel blend. The only station I know off-hand that sells biodiesel (that isn't a co-op) is Knox truck stops.
posted by narcoleptic at 9:03 AM on June 2, 2012


Seen just a few blocks from BP headquarters in the petro metro.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:07 AM on June 2, 2012


This is really pointless without at least one 3600psi CNG pump.

Here in LA the number of CNG cars is noticeable and seem to be growing. The main reason is that CNG vehicles can drive in the carpool lane. (we're looking for a CNG pickup for work for the carpool access). As a bonus CNG is about $2.50 per gas gallon equivalent vs. $4.30 for regular gasoline. All the garbage trucks and buses are CNG.

The monetary payoff isn't really there for a regular person. The honda civic CNG is a $5k premium over the high efficiency model. But the carpool lane is worth a lot of money to a fair number of people. One house in my neighborhood has 2 CNG civics in the driveway.
posted by TheJoven at 9:28 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]



I'd love it if I could pull up somewhere and get my brakes and gears adjusted while I wait.

I'd really love it. Like paying double or triple cost love it.

I'd love it so hard it would be embarrassing in cycling shorts.
posted by srboisvert at 9:55 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Horton is an environmentalist who spends his free time [with] rocks and...trees.

Nice one, Business Week. And he married a carrot!
posted by hydrophonic at 10:11 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


it's the Apple Store of alternative fueling!

Propel has (had?) a fueling station in downtown Seattle, not a few blocks away from where Amazon moved its headquarters to. It was a lonely, grim pump in an asphalt sea. No staff, no usual gas station accoutrements, just a single, unglamorous pump. They sold biodiesel next to regular diesel, offering a choice which no one else was doing at the time, but for lack of staff or polish it seems weird to call them Apple Store-like.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:17 AM on June 2, 2012


I doubt used cooking oil scales up to the level needed. A best a transition phase, and then what? Same old shell game, and less land for food production, more rain forests logged to put in palm oil plantations, etc.
posted by Philofacts at 10:22 AM on June 2, 2012


ethanol and biodiesel rely on industrial agriculture and the replacement of food crops with fuel crops

Not always - algal biofuel, for instance, doesn't compete for land with food crops.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:24 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


How much per liter is that algal biofuel?
posted by Glomar response at 10:41 AM on June 2, 2012


stbalbach: "not sure how much they get used

Why? All it takes is three people who work in the building with plugin hydrids to fill up the spaces. Given how common those vehicles are today, and how cheap electricity is compared to gasoline, those slots will fill up fast.
"

I don't know how much they get used because I don't know how much they get used. It wasn't an opinion, I was just saying that I have no information.
posted by octothorpe at 10:44 AM on June 2, 2012


> Propel has (had?) a fueling station in downtown Seattle, not a few blocks away from where Amazon moved its headquarters to. It was a lonely, grim pump in an asphalt sea. No staff, no usual gas station accoutrements, just a single, unglamorous pump.

They also put one in Fremont, a few blocks from Dr. Dans, it was more to fillup at Propel than Dan's, but it worked when I didn't have a balance at the coop and I was low on B99.

SeQuential on the other hand was a great experience when I was driving to LA, and I made a point of stopping there to fill up (and get some of their coffee as well). I see they finally have some stations up here in Portland, too bad I am selling my car.

One thing I found kind of awesome about the whole BioDiesel thing is a lot of the independent stations are really great. When I was on my drive through to LA, I calculated I was going to need a fillup in San Francisco but since I was arriving late on saturday, no one would be open until Monday AM for me to get a fillup from. I managed to get DogPatch's owner to open up for me on a sunday so I could fill up, in exchange for a few bags of Seattle coffee (along with paying for the biodiesel). I mean, I could have just filled up on regular diesel, but my goal was to see if I could accomplish the drive on biodiesel alone.

Unfortunately some of the ground tank storage laws changed, and california banned biodiesel from being stored in underground tanks and closed a lot of the easy to get to stations in Los Angeles (as it was explained to me, the justification was biodiesel may possibly contain things dangerous to the water shed, so it can't be stored in underground tanks, whereas normal diesel and gasoline, which are proven to be bad for the watershed could, because they were grandfathered in as previously OKAYed automotive fuels).
posted by mrzarquon at 10:58 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Glomar response, my point was that the production of biodiesel does not have to involve using farmland. I agree that there aren't any serious alternatives to gasoline that are cost-effective today.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:12 AM on June 2, 2012


With ten million in venture capital and more that twenty million in dollars in grants, the fueling station of the future does not offer electricity or natural gas.

Kinda axe grindy, no?

gas station seems to be technology agnostic

I think this point cannot be emphasized enough. Most gas stations are beyond technology agnostic. They're practically motor vehicle agnostic, sometimes relying on cigarettes and energy drinks to subsidize the thin margins on fuels.

Which explains the lack of alternative fuel stations. Commercially viable alternative fuel is pretty hard to find.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:27 AM on June 2, 2012


Wipe him down with gasoline
'till his arms are long and mean...
    -- Tom Waits

It's an invisible hand joke.
posted by sneebler at 12:02 PM on June 2, 2012


I doubt used cooking oil scales up to the level needed

Any level is "needed". If all available used cooking oil was converted to biofuel that would be perfect. In the world of renewables, it's not about solving everything with one technology, rather divide the load among many different technologies. Pundits love to point out how any single technology by itself never solve the oil problem, and therefore we're all screwed etc.. but it's a fallacy, there is plenty of green energy available -- if you accept it will come from multiple sources. Actually it's already happening, so this isn't a prophecy, just an observation of a trend, the energy market continues to fracture into ever greater choices.
posted by stbalbach at 12:39 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


The main component of natural gas is methane, which is 72 times as bad as CO2 in terms of global warming. over 20 years. It deteriorates in the atmosphere over time, unlike CO2, but still.

It's true that you get less CO2 released while extracting and using it compared to coal and oil, but if any of it leaks out, it could end up being worse in terms of global warming overall. Some of the current estimates that say it's better are based on a 2% release rate, which seems overly optimistic to me.

Biofuels net zero CO2 when you burn them unlike methane.

Maybe natural gas is a good idea for power generation where you can have perminant sealed connections to deliver the gas. But it seems like putting it in cars could allow for a lot more leaks. Biofuels don't have that problem at all.

Just because T Boone Picken's says it's good for the environment doesn't actually mean it is.
posted by delmoi at 12:55 PM on June 2, 2012


does not offer electricity

Then it is not the gas station of the future
posted by Flood at 1:49 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


...cyclists can get tune-ups...

The definition of a bicycle "tune-up" is not a constant among different bike shops, even in the same city. I'm curious as to how well a gas station can prepare to fix various sorts of bikes in various conditions. Will they have the tube and tire in stock to fix a flat on a bike with an uncommon wheel size?

With auto repairs, there are ways to get out of stock parts delivered within a few hours. That's not really the case for bicycle parts, except in the few cities where there happens to be a local distributor.
posted by helicomatic at 3:02 PM on June 2, 2012


error correction: The original text in the link indicates the venture capital investment is nineteen million ten.

My apologies for the extra "in" in. I sure would like to blame the font for that error.
posted by vozworth at 5:41 PM on June 2, 2012


Sweet baby Jesus ethanol? Stop, it is the World War One of energy policies. It is a terrible idea, expensive, low energy density, raises food prices, and rips funding away from other initiatives. Please stop.
posted by karmiolz at 5:54 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Biofuels net zero CO2 when you burn them unlike methane.

I didn't think this was the case, given all you are doing is swapping out one sort of hydrocarbon chain for another, but apparently I don't need to ask for a citation.

I did a quick hunt around, and most of the articles I found suggest there will be a net increase in CO2 from biofuels overall (The Guardian, 2008) with the conversion to farmland if we aren't careful with biofuels.

The market and land-use policies being what they are I think we can probably be trusted to tear down rainforests in Indonesia over building decent algae tank farms.
posted by Mezentian at 5:56 PM on June 2, 2012


Roll up your arm and bend over, do you want Regular or Premium?
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:57 PM on June 2, 2012


helicomatic writes "With auto repairs, there are ways to get out of stock parts delivered within a few hours. That's not really the case for bicycle parts, except in the few cities where there happens to be a local distributor."

Could be a chicken and egg thing. There isn't anything inherrent in bicycle parts that resupply couldn't be handled by the same warehousing and distribution now serving auto parts garages. Besides how many sizes types of tubes are there? Would a 1000 tubes cover most (99.9%) bikes in a city? A tube box is about 3x4x6 inches. A shelving unit with 4" between shelves, 6' long and 10' high would handle (3/shelf ft, X 6' x3 shelves per vertical foot X 10') 540 different tubes. So you could handle a 1000 different tubes with only 12' of shelving with space left over for more popular sizes.
posted by Mitheral at 6:35 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Call me when venture capitalists start funding new private trolley (light rail) projects, where you buy a monthly pass that lets you use your smartphone not only to track trolley locations, but so the trolleys can track you (and others) heading for stations/reserving a pickup time so they can better manage the line in real time.
posted by davejay at 7:14 PM on June 2, 2012


Do people even still believe this "corn ethanol is clean" bs?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:57 PM on June 2, 2012


I doubt used cooking oil scales up to the level needed

>Any level is "needed". If all available used cooking oil was converted to biofuel that would be perfect. In the world of renewables, it's not about solving everything with one technology, rather divide the load among many different technologies. Pundits love to point out how any single technology by itself never solve the oil problem, and therefore we're all screwed etc.. but it's a fallacy, there is plenty of green energy available -- if you accept it will come from multiple sources. Actually it's already happening, so this isn't a prophecy, just an observation of a trend, the energy market continues to fracture into ever greater choices.


You're right - I don't mean to imply that proponents of that usage think it's the only source of either biodiesel specifically or fuels generally. But a cooking oil distribution network will probably need to piggyback upon a less environmentally-friendly biofuels industry's momentum in order to catch on in a widespread way - that is, people who invest in a biodiesel conversion for their cars need to know that, if a cooking oil source isn't always handy (and it's likely to become scarcer as more users tap into it), that there is an alternative ubiquitous enough that they won't get stranded somewhere, and I fear that unless some sources like algae, and sources that don't remove a lot of nutrients from the soil when grown, are developed as a practical and economical mainstay of biodiesel production, eco-conscious biodiesel car drivers will find themselves frequently forced into subsidizing harmful agricultural practices like rainforest-leveling palm oil plantations and other lands taken out of food production into some monoculture oil-producing crop. Both big (petro)oil and agribiz have their eyes on biodiesel, and oil co.'s are likely to be the ones building the distribution networks. If palm oil and other such things look better for their bottom lines than algae or other ecosystem-neutral sources, they'll go for the palm oil. They're not interested in anything other than profit and a little greenwashing where it helps profit. They can externalize the costs to the ecosystems and food production, as they've always done with other damage done, and they will. (And agribiz stands to make more money at least in the short term if prices rise as a result of a shortage of arable land for food production.)

Multiple sources of energy are of course the way in the big picture - but as far as I know, a biodiesel-optimized engine can only run on biodiesel. Now, a hybrid electric/biodiesel...!
posted by Philofacts at 11:07 PM on June 2, 2012


Biofuels net zero CO2 when you burn them unlike methane.

But the other difference is that most biofuels are something you divert some other resource to make, like corn for ethanol, whereas methane -- well, there's lots of methane out there. A lot of it is created in water treatment plants and landfills, where recapture is relatively easy. Right now, it's either allowed to escape, or it's inefficiently burned. The idea here is that you are taking methane that would otherwise have just whooshed off into the atmosphere and finding a way to burn it first. You know those "flare stacks" near oil wells that sometimes have a huge flame coming off of them? Yep. Largely CH4, and what isn't burned (becoming CO2) just escapes. Creating a market for that gas changes the economics.

We have a long, long way to go before we're creating methane just for the point of being CNG. Right now it's all about recapture.

Do people even still believe this "corn ethanol is clean" bs?

It creates fewer hydrocarbon particulate emissions, but that's its main, and practically only, advantage at a societal level. I'm more dairy belt than corn belt, but we have plenty of ethanol-blend gas around here, and there are places in town that have E85. It's a good deal for farmers as long as the subsidies continue, dependent on the overall corn market, but I think HFCS production is also providing some helpful offset there. I think it's fair to consider it a transitional alternative fuel, as long as you're realistic about it. The one thing I wish people would understand isn't yours -- it's that it actually, gallon for gallon, increases fuel imports.
posted by dhartung at 12:11 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


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