Pump It Up 

USA Petroleum tests biodiesel

Wednesday, Jul 12 2006

Any old diesel car without modifications will burn biodiesel, a cleaner-burning diesel fuel refined from vegetable oil instead of traditional black gold. Just a few months ago, however, obtaining biodiesel in Los Angeles County required either turning your garage into a chemistry experiment, ordering the fuel in 55-gallon drums or joining the Los Angeles Biodiesel Co-op (formerly $500 upfront, now only $250).

Then Kris Moller came along. Moller, who started his working life washing cars at the Palisades Gas ’N’ Wash, convinced his dad, John, the owner of USA Petroleum Corp., to give over the underused diesel pumps at two of his Westside stations to biodiesel.

“As long as I could make it work financially,” says the younger Moller, “he said I could do it.”

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Dad should be impressed: Moller opened the first pump on National Biodiesel Day, March 18, and in one month, a station that had been selling only 500 gallons a month of petrodiesel pumped 4,500 gallons of biodiesel, including 1,500 to the co-op. He is committed to buying fuel from feedstock grown close to home — he prefers California-grown walnut and cottonseed oil to Midwestern soy. At the moment his biodiesel comes from Imperial Western Products, which produces it with oil left over from processing walnuts.

To those who would carp that using crops for biofuels will deprive developing countries of food, Moller says, “You tell me how using an agricultural byproduct for fuel is starving people. That doesn’t make much sense.”

Freaky laws unique to California require alternative-fuel suppliers to collect information on their customers, so buying fuel from USA’s pumps entails joining the Southern California Biodiesel Users Group (www.socalbug.org), which can be done by filling out a form at the station. Currently, two local stations offer biodiesel (there’s also one in Santa Cruz), one with limited hours (8 a.m. to 5:55 p.m.) in Pacific Palisades at 890 Alma Real Drive (a full-service extravaganza) and another in Marina Del Rey at 4395 Glencoe Avenue, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As a Hollywood resident, I fill up my 2002 Volkswagen New Beetle TDI whenever I happen to be near the beach, but always have a backup 55-gallon drum at home delivered by L.A. Biofuel (310-962-0488). Thanks to Moller’s pumps, the Biodiesel Co-op trailer has fled the Westside, so now Eastsiders can fill up in a lot on North Avenue 21 near Dodger Stadium (the co-op people provide more detailed directions if you contact them via their Web site at www.biodiesel-coop.org).

Moving the trailer from its original Culver City lot “was hard for the us,” says co-op co-instigator Kent Bullard, who reaffirms that his goal has always been to see the co-op put out of business. “But having public pumps open as a direct result of the co-op actions is just such an empowering thing.”

Reach the writer at judith.lewis@laweekly.com

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