The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News December 16, 2005

Alum Brings Biodiesel to Oberlin
Alternative Fuel Station in the Works
Fueling Around: Sam Merrett, OC ’05, and Bob Beckett pose in a car they recently converted to run on vegetable oil.

The former Main Street Marathon gas station, located south of downtown Oberlin, appears vacant from the outside. Inside, however, it is busy with activity as Oberlin’s first alternative fuel station, Full Circle Fuels, prepares to open.

Among the first of its kind in the country, Full Circle Fuels was conceived and created by Sam Merrett, OC ’05, with the help of the organization he started, Biodiesel Oberlin. And he has found diverse additional help — Catherine Jandra, professor of environmental studies; Bob Beckett, a local autotechnician; John Beyer, a Cleveland-based electrical engineer; Avery Brook, OC ’05, leader of the nonprofit Oberlin Design Initiative; Ray Holan, recent author of Sliding Home: A Complete Guide to Driving Your Diesel on Straight Vegetable Oil and others.

“It’s a multifaceted organization,” said Merrett, who received a Compton Mentor Fellowship to realize his plan for a biofuel resource center. Holan, whom Merrett met his sophomore year working with biodiesel, is both his mentor and business partner in the project.

Full Circle Fuels will sell alternative fuel sources such as various blends of biodiesel/petroleum and an ethanol mixture (e-85) at the pumps. It will distribute Straight Vegetable Oil on the side.

E-85 is a mixture that can be used in many gasoline engines, while SVO only works in diesel vehicles and requires a special conversion. The greasy stuff that restaurants must pay to dispose of, Holan refers to SVO as “biodiesel’s poor country cousin” in his recent book. Merrett plans to collect grease from area restaurants and possibly the College dining halls.

Merrett plans to have one tank of biodiesel and one tank of petroleum, allowing customers to choose their desired mixture at the pump.

“This is a really exciting part about the station,” said Merrett. “You’ll be able to choose the percentage you want.”

Merrett spoke enthusiastically but realistically about Full Circle Fuels, emphasizing that it would, in many ways, be experimental.

“Biodiesel clearly isn’t the solution [to the United States’ energy problems],” he said. “But [it] is part of the solution. That’s why there are so many parts to this.”

Merrett explained that Full Circle Fuels, in addition to selling alternative fuels, will provide services such as performing conversions that allow cars to run on SVO, as well as regular automotive repairs. This is where Beckett and Beyer will be involved.

Beckett and Merrett discussed their plans for another aspect of Full Circle Fuels, which Merrett described as “a bike co-op model” designed for lower-income car owners. Full Circle would provide the equipment and the advice, and the car owner would learn how to do the repairs him or herself.

“I’ve got a lot of information in my head, and I’d like to share it with someone,” said Beckett.

In addition, Full Circle Fuels plans to house nonprofit organizations interested in energy conservation. The student-run Oberlin Design Initiative is the first nonprofit to come on board.

Full Circle Fuels recently entered into an agreement with the largest SVO installation company in the country, Greasel, to be dealers and installers for the company. Greasel has already sent Full Circle Fuels numerous commissions.

“We weren’t planning on opening yet,” said Merrett. “But customers showed up and we didn’t want to say no.”

Merrett gained experience working with alternative energy sources while doing his honors project in environmental studies at Oberlin. He estimates that he has converted between 20-30 vehicles to biodeisel already, though not all of them through Full Circle.

“I started doing [the conversions] for students and friends [at Oberlin] and my dad let me experiment on his car,” he said.

When the Review spoke with the Full Circle Fuels, they had just finished their first semi-truck conversion and were beginning work on a truck that a man had driven all the way from Connecticut to be converted.

“With biodiesel production, there are cool little local models,” said Merrett. “You can convert your pickup [to run on Straight Vegetable Oil] and work with your neighbor’s restaurant to fuel it.”

Merrett plans for Full Circle Fuels to have its grand opening, with all the components of the station running, this coming summer. It is already open for SVO conversions and regular auto repair.


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