Not Your Father's Filling Station Opens in Oberlin, Ohio

Ray Holan is an accomplished auto mechanic, biofuel advocate, author of the book Sliding Home: A Complete Guide to Driving Your Diesel on Straight Vegetable Oil and regular feature contributor to AutoblogGreen.

Once upon a time, the station at 141 South Main Street in the sleepy college town of Oberlin, Ohio pumped you full of lead and no one thought twice. Ethyl, that is. Ethyl as in tetraethyl lead in the gas. Unleaded? A foreign word. Lead in the gas meant higher octane. Dare I suggest that lead foots loved it? Oh yeah. Head out to the drive-in in your chopped and channeled Merc. Those were the days.

But that was then. This is now. If current operator, Sam Merrett, has his way, the pumps at this 1950's vintage gas station will be soon pumping E85 (85% ethanol plus 15% unleaded) for flex-fuel vehicles and custom blends of biodiesel for diesels. A far cry from ethyl and the days when "Saturday Night Live" meant stuffing friends into your trunk and hitting a drive-in movie.

Sam and business partner, Bob Beckett, spent the last few months of 2005 cleaning up and renovating the dilapidated filling station near the Oberlin College campus. They opened the service bay doors as " Full Circle Fuels" in January 2006. How they got here is an interesting story.

[Read the rest after the jump]
Sam, a native New Yorker, completed his undergraduate degree in environmental studies at Oberlin in the spring of 2005. He got bitten by the "biodiesel bug" as a student and soon devised a scheme to further his career by opening a business dedicated to biofuels. Fortunately for the locals, he elected to set up shop right down the street from his alma mater rather than move back to New York State. Fortunately for Sam, he received a Compton Foundation (based in California) fellowship to jumpstart his "biofuel resource center" in Oberlin.

Sam (on left) met Bob Beckett (right), through a mutual acquaintance. Bob is a certified mechanic with 20 years experience under his belt and an equal tenure under the hood. He is a graduate of GM College of Automotive Industries and he's confident he can fix just about anything with wheels. His business card reads, "If I can't fix it you should junk it". Before joining Full Circle Fuels, he worked at several dealerships, operated his own shop and did many full auto restorations including a 1909 Ford model T, a 1931 model A and a garage full of hot rods. Bob is an exacting professional, however, and a hard-nosed realist. He does not fit the "tree-hugger" stereotype. Why the FCF partnership? He puts it this way. "I have always enjoyed auto technologies and the possibilities of future creations and alternate power sources. That is where Sam and Full Circle Fuels come into play," he said.

This Jeep Liberty CRD is awaiting an SVO upgrade

While Full Circle Fuels main claim to fame is SVO diesel upgrades (making a diesel engine run on straight vegetable oil), the partners have quite a few other tricks up their greasy sleeves. FCF also:

• Plans an auto repair self-help clinic for low-income residents
• Is a pick-up and drop-off location for a local car-sharing program
• Collects waste cooking oil from local establishments for use in converted vehicles and for biodiesel production
• Is preparing their underground tanks and retail pumps to offer alternative fuels (E85 and biodiesel blends) by early summer 2006
• Produces off-road biodiesel in a mobile, off-the-grid processor
• Conducts educational outreach programs for student and adult groups
• Performs general automotive repair

These services keep Sam and Bob busy these days. Fortunately, several volunteers from the college who believe in "learning by doing" assist them.

Setting the station up to sell biofuels is proving to be an interesting challenge. The gas station had new underground tanks installed in 1995, but biofuels have special needs. Thus, the partners obtained grant monies to help defray the cost of inspecting and upgrading the tanks and fuel dispensers for these new (to a 1950's gas station) and renewable fuels. The plan is to offer E85 in one pump and biodiesel blend of the customer's choice from the other. To my knowledge, the idea of a biodiesel pump capable of B2, B5, B10, B20, or whatever percentage of biodiesel to regular diesel the customer chooses is unique. Many technical hurdles need to be overcome, but Sam and Bob are confident these can be cleared.

FCF is ably guided in their straight vegetable oil fueling endeavors by Golden Fuel Systems. GFS is a kit manufacturer that has been at the SVO (straight vegetable oil) fueling game a number of years while FCF is a dealer for their kits. Typical installations cost $1200 for cars and $ 1500 for pickup trucks plus the cost of the kit. Other vehicles, motor homes for example, are quoted on a case-by-case basis.

This Mercedes diesel sedan is getting a custom SVO filler right next to its diesel counterpart. The SVO side is getting a green cap.

SVO customers have their choice of components. Many elect specific options like an on-the-road oil-gathering system with an electric pump, oil filters, and quick disconnects that enable the owner to pull up to a biofuel-friendly restaurant and "fuel up" wherever their journey takes them. FCF customers run the gambit from students on a "small fries, please" budget to an East Coast customer who had Sam and Bob install a new set of wheels and tires at the budget-busting price of over $4,000 (and that's BEFORE any SVO fueling work was performed). Ah, it takes all kinds to make a world.

Sam and Bob have converted over 30 vehicles to date and currently have a waiting list for additional installations. They have upgraded the usual ( VW TDIs, early '80s Mercedes diesel sedans) and the unusual (a bread truck, a class A motor home, a Dodge Dually). Recent fuel hikes have kick-started interest in what FCF has to offer, especially the SVO conversion work. At a recent Earth Day event, Sam and Bob's vehicle display had show-goers circling like flights at O'Hare to ogle their 2003 Dodge Cummins truck and 2003 VW Jetta TDI. Yup, there's a lot of interest out there in alternative fuels on Main Street now that we're taking a heavy hit in the pocketbook. Looks like outfits like Full Circle Fuels will be a hit, period.

Full Circle Fuels
141 S. Main St.
Oberlin, OH 44074

PHONE: 440-574-5436

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