Propel Pulls In $21M For Green Gas Station Expansion

Aiming to become the go-to green gas station, Propel Fuels this week said it had raised $21 million that it will put toward expansion.

According to its website, Propel now operates at 30 West Coast locations, in Northern California, the Puget Sound region and Southern California. It sells biodiesel made from waste vegetable or soybean oils, as well as E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline for Flex Fuel vehicles. The company said it is aiming to have more than 200 stations up and running in “new and existing markets over the next two years.”

Propel Fuels funding

image via Propel Fuels

It November, Propel was in the news when it partnered Propel’s partnered with Solazyme, the South San Francisco company that has been at the center of the military’s forays into algal biofuel, on a promotion to offer algae-based SoladieselBD at stations in Redwood City, San Jose, Berkeley and Oakland.

“This new funding, combined with grant funding from the State of California, will enable us to accelerate the build out of our alternative fuel stations across state, offering consumers true choice and a better experience at the pump,” Matt Horton, CEO of Propel, said in a statement.

Ah, yes, grant funding: That’s a reference to the $10.1 million Propel received from the California Energy Commssion through its Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology program.

That grant was focused on expanding the number of Flex Fuel fueling stations in the state, requiring Propel to install “publicly-accessible, E85 ethanol dispensing equipment at 101 existing retail gasoline fueling stations throughout the state.”

E85 vehicles get lower gas mileage than regular gasoline vehicles, but the U.S. Department of Energy says the upside is worth it: lower emissions. On its website, the DOE cites an Argonne National Laboratory study that calculated lower life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions using corn-based ethanol.

However, this is hardly a universally held view, and other analysis has found that biofuels lose their carbon neutrality when fossil fuels are used to transport them and when farmers use nitrogen fertilizers (made from using natural gas) to grow biofuel feedstocks. Then there’s the matter of growing the feedstocks pushing production onto previously uncleared land, which released carbon accumulated in soil and vegetation.

As the California grant suggests, not all the Propel stations will be standalone, all-green fuel outlets; “the company’s network of stations will include a mix of their traditional Clean Fuel Points (renewable fueling stations co-located with traditional fuel stations) and the new Clean Mobility Centers,” Propel says on its website.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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