Self-serve biofuel company eyes Meridian site


Bellingham drivers may soon have a new place to find biodiesel.

Propel Biofuels, a Seattle-based builder, owner and operator of alternative fuel stations, has applied to the city of Bellingham for permission to construct a biodiesel mini-station on the northeast corner of the Bellis Fair Shell station’s property at 3970 Meridian St., across from the Bellis Fair mall.

The unstaffed mini-station would consist of one single-sided fuel dispenser and a credit card reader under a canopy, and a 5,000-gallon above-ground storage tank. The storage tank would be split into two 2,500-gallon compartments, one with B20 biodiesel and the other with B99 biodiesel; the number in the name indicates the percentage of biofuel mixed with regular diesel.

The mini-station’s total footprint would be 156 square feet and the pump would operate independently of the Shell station, according to the public notice.

Chris LaPlante, director of marketing for Propel, said the company is testing the permitting waters with this site but is still considering several sites for its first Bellingham mini-station. Propel Biofuels has five fuel dispensers in Seattle, one in Mount Vernon and others coming soon in Oregon and California.

LaPlante said the company does a lot of analysis to see if there are enough diesel vehicles in the area to support a biodiesel fuel dispenser and to determine the area’s level of eco-consciousness. In Bellingham there were enough diesels, he said, but the eco-conscious was the most impressive.

“That put Bellingham over the top,” LaPlante said.

With fuel prices rising, this may be a shaky time to enter the biofuel market. Chuck Gabl, who owns the Deming Quick Stop, said he has seen the demand for B20 and especially B99 slump as the price nudged over $5 per gallon.

“Demand has dropped off quite a bit because of the price,” he said.

At the end of June, Gabl was selling B99 for $5.49, B20 for $4.99 and regular diesel for $4.85 per gallon. Gabl said he sold a lot more biodiesel a few years ago when the price of biodiesel was closer to the price of regular diesel.

Even with the price increase, though, Gabl said he is still seeing truckers and commuters filling their tanks with biodiesel.

Local biofuel wholesaler Whole Energy Fuels has also seen a slight dip in demand as the price has increased, said director of marketing Kevin Kuper. However, all fuels are seeing reduced demand and this doesn’t mean that people have lost interest in biodiesel, Kuper said.

In fact, starting Dec. 1, two percent of all the diesel sold in Washington is required to be biodiesel, according to the Washington State Renewable Fuel Standard passed by the legislature in 2006. And by June 1, 2009, all state agencies that use diesel vehicles will be required to run on at least 20 percent biodiesel.

With these added incentives, Kuper said, the market for biofuel is healthy and poised for growth.

“I think based on those two mandates, we’re going to see demand for biodiesel increase,” Kuper said.

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