In Eugene, two royal blue and goldenrod yellow SeQuential Biofuels stations stand out among a sea of Shell, 76 and Chevron gas stations. The latter group is of the typical gas-and-go variety with unleaded outside and trans-fat snacks on the inside. The other sells biodiesel, yerba mate and organic produce under a green roof.
SeQuential BioFuels is Eugene’s greenest fueling station and is ground zero for cutting- edge alternative fuels while also turning organic food into roadside convenience snacks. In the ordinary filling station, the gas is petroleum based and the fats sit on the shelves. At SeQuential, the fats and greases are in the pump and comprise the mostly soy-based fuel.
Fed up with “Big Oil”, Thomas Endicott, Ian Hill and Tyson Keever began making biodiesel in Hill’s garage in 2000, using leftover cooking oil collected from restaurants. Local demand for their biodiesel grew dramatically, and in 2004, they teamed with Pacific Biodiesel to open Oregon’s first commercial-scale biodiesel production plant.
SeQuential takes in Oregon-grown canola and waste vegetable oils from the region, and converts this feedstock into biodiesel through a process known as “transesterification.” The result is a cleaner burning fuel that is biodegradable. Its byproduct is carbon dioxide, the same compound animals exhale. The tailpipe emissions from a petroleum-burning engine, by contrast, are carbon monoxide; smog’s main component, nitrous oxide and unburned hydrocarbons.
Today SeQuential has its own oil processing plant and a fleet of thirty biofueled trucks that collect oils in Western states. The company’s biodiesel plant in Salem produces 17 million gallons of biodiesel fuel per year. That fuel is multiples less carbon-intensive than petroleum diesel, making it one of the lowest carbon fuels commercially available in the United States. Additionally, SeQuential Pacific Biodiesel is a zero-waste facility, deploying a proprietary process that produces no waste water, and generates heat and power from heavy fats and oils that cannot be processed. Atop it all is a distillation column to capture and re-use methanol released in the process. This facility provides fuel for a network of nearly seventy consumer retail stations.
Thousands of plants grow on its flagship rooftop in Eugene. Inside, dozens of local food products from more than seventy-five local companies fill the shelves. Fresh sandwiches, organic coffee and pastries from nearby Sweet Life Patisserie give a fresh twist on convenience food. One filling station’s sandwich special is made from Applegate ham, local gluten-free bread and organic produce.
In addition to the living roof, half of SeQuential’s annual electricity needs are supplanted by its passive solar building design.
Both federal and state tax credits and mandates have played a role in the creation and viability of alternative fuel companies. In 2007, the State of Oregon created a business energy tax credit (BETC) to aid in the development and distribution of alternative energy resources. Under this program, the state successfully courted solar panel manufacturers, electric car makers, wind power projects and biofuel manufacturers.
“We have a state level mandate for a renewable fuel standard, which stipulates five percent biodiesel of all diesel sold in Oregon, and it doesn’t stipulate where that biodiesel must come from,” Hill says. “We still compete to fill that demand. Competition is good; it’s not a handout from the government at all, by any stretch of the imagination.”
As part of a wide-ranging renewable energy portfolio, Oregon law requires all gasoline retailers to blend their petroleum fuel with 10 percent ethanol. Oregon also offers residents a state income tax credit up to $200 for documented use of high blends of biodiesel.
While Hill and Keever have witnessed other biodiesel companies shooting for the moon and failing, their approach is moderate growth. Their focus is to create high-quality, low-emission fuel products for Oregonians and the Pacific Northwest—with or without government assistance.
“From the beginning we’ve been very determined to develop a business that will thrive without any government programs or incentives, and we feel like we’re certainly on our way to that,” says Hill. “We are out to create something that is really sustainable, and we want it to be around for our grandkids.”