Sound of Success

Dr. Dan's Alternative Fuel Werks is spreading the benefits of biodiesel throughout Washington's Puget Sound. Business is booming, and expansion is on the horizon.
By Jesssica Williams | April 01, 2005
Dan Freeman, owner of Dr. Dan's Alternative Fuel Werks in Seattle, Wash., stood before more than 350 attendees at the local Northwest Biodiesel Forum on March 19, saying the state of Washington has the highest concentration of biodiesel users in the nation.

It's a distinction resident energy conservationists can be proud of, and a milestone Dr. Dan helped the state chalk up.

Freeman created Dr. Dan's Alternative Fuel Werks in 1990 with the intent of selling compressed natural gas (CNG) after an acquaintance made the suggestion. He saw it as a chance to make a difference in the world-and a way to make a living at the same time. So he added a CNG pump to his existing auto repair shop on Seattle's 50th St. N.W., and also became a member of the Puget Sound Clean Cities Coalition (PSCCC), an organization that protects air quality, public health, energy security and economic development by promoting the implementation of policies and practices that reduce petroleum consumption.

"The PSCCC approached me about handling biodiesel, and at first I said no way," Freeman admitted. "It was just another way to perpetuate

diesel. But they were persistent, and I eventually listened."

In October 2001, Freeman decided to give it a try. He added ASTM-certified biodiesel, B100, to his company's list of products. Less than three and half years later, Dr. Dan's Alternative Fuel Werks goes through 13,000 to 15,000 gallons of B100 per month. Meanwhile, CNG sales range from 300 gallons per week in the offseason to 1,000 gallons per week during the summer. Pacific Northwest Energy is the company's biodiesel supplier.
Although Freeman couldn't confirm it, he believes Washington is the birthplace of widespread B100 use, and he's certain the state still ranks No. 1 in B100 consumption. At his station, more than 900 customers regularly fill up on biodiesel. More than 95 percent of them use B100, including commercial consumers like Earthwise Excavation, Seattle Tree Preservation Inc., Four Season Tree Care and Symbiosis Tree Care. "Every vehicle you can imagine comes through here, from 80,000-pound semis to bulldozers, excavators, boats and tractors," Freeman said.

Dr. Dan's business works slightly different from a traditional public fueling station. Customers must set up an account in advance and pre-purchase their fuel, at a minimum of 40 gallons. Those who pre-pay for more than 100 gallons receive a discount. "Our goal it to make biodiesel as cheap and accessible as possible," Freeman said. "The prepayment makes it possible to [control] inventory. It also cuts down on transaction costs."

When asked if any conversion was needed for vehicles to run on B100, he laughed.
"The oldest vehicle [that comes to the station] is a 1959 Mercedes," Freeman said. "No conversion necessary. As far as hose replacement, the only ones are hoses that are already leaking from regular diesel use or had been replaced with incapable hoses. Almost 1,000 vehicles are filling up here, and maybe 10 vehicles have needed hoses replaced."

Freeman identified early-model Chevrolets and Fords with low mileage as vehicles that would need parts (i.e., the fuel lift pump) replaced to run on biodiesel.

Freeman said he doesn't hear many negative comments about biodiesel at his station. "Some people complain about diesel prices, and they think running a car on French Fries and diesel should be cheaper," he said. "I've got answers for them. But generally those aren't going to be our customers. When the [Iraqi] war started, it was all we could do to answer the phone."

Of course, Freeman drives his own vehicle on B100-a new Volkswagen Golf that averages 38 to 47 miles per gallon. He said some customers, mostly fellow Volkswagen owners, sometimes get more than 50 miles per gallon. "The local Volkswagen dealers love us, and now the local Daimler Chrysler dealers love us," Freeman said.

In fact, at the Northwest Biodiesel Forum, Volkswagen AG (VW) and Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) announced the vehicle manufacturer's decision to extend warranty protection for the use of biodiesel (up to B5) in all of its U.S. market diesel-powered automobiles.

"Our decision to extend warranty coverage for diesel engines fueled by the B5 biodiesel blend is driven by the shared desire of VW and ADM to capitalize on the significant environmental, economic and quality-related benefits of increased biodiesel usage," said Frank Witter, CEO of Volkswagen of America. "Volkswagen and ADM are now focused on jointly testing a blend of 20 percent biodiesel or B20 in order to provide ever-cleaner alternative and sustainable fuel choices."

Despite such a landmark decision by a major automobile manufacturer, hardedged B100 advocates like Freeman were not ecstatic about the announcement. "It's nice they said something," he said. "But I'm disappointed it's only B5, especially since we probably have 700 TDIs running B100 through my station." TDIs are Volkswagen models with turbo direct injection diesel (TDI) engines.

Freeman said the Northwest Biodiesel Forum was a success overall. The hall was filled to capacity, and the parking lot outside was packed with attendees and various biodiesel-fueled vehicles, including buses and heavy machinery. "Pretty good considering it was cold and rainy," he said.

Freeman attributes the state's biodiesel success and acceptance to the event's coordinator, the Northwest Biodiesel Network ( One of the network's founding members, Aaron Kahn, told Biodiesel Magazine the organization was created when members of a TDI Club decided to hold an event mainly focused on cars but eventually focused on biodiesel. Now the group tackles a variety of advocacy, education and outreach issues dealing with biodiesel.

Kahn said he had an equally blasé reaction to Volkswagen's B5 warranty announcement. "To me, the whole discussion about warranty is a red herring," Kahn said. "In the research I did when I bought my car for B100, I found [automobile manufacturers] don't warranty the fuel period, whether it be petroleum or vegetable oil. The bottom line is consumers are responsible for putting fuel in their car."

Still growing
Despite the successful sale and use of biodiesel in the state, Dr. Dan's Alternative Fuel Werks isn't satisfied with current biodiesel consumption. Freeman told Biodiesel Magazine the company is in the process of applying for a grant to build four more B100 stations in the Puget Sound area: Vashon Island, Roosevelt, Snohomish and Bellingham. "We'd very much like to see it go the same way as organic food has gone in the area," he said. "Locally grown, produced and used. Our goal is to have Washington State grow and produce fuel. We think that'd be a tremendous boon for the economy, environment and quality of life."

The state's demand is certainly strong enough to support an increase in supply. Pacific Northwest Energy goes through approximately 100,000 gallons of B100 per month in the Puget Sound area, thanks to the state's high concentration of military bases and ferries. Freeman said Tacoma uses 20 percent biodiesel blends in the city's garbage trucks and Lacey uses 40 percent biodiesel blends in its buses. According to Freeman, Washington was using 4 percent of the nation's biodiesel last summer. "I'm sure it's probably up to 8 percent now," he said.
In addition to Dr. Dan's, nine other fueling stations in the Puget Sound area sell biodiesel. That number is sure to grow in the near future.

Web site savvy
Six months before Freeman started selling biodiesel, he decided to create a Web site to promote his business. Now, is a wealth of information for anyone interested in the renewable fuel. Aside from basic information about CNG and biodiesel, a "Frequently Asked Questions" link dispels several myths about biodiesel fuel. The phone numbers and address of area biodiesel fueling stations are listed on the site, including a map of how to get to Dr. Dan's. Other links offer information about grant opportunities and direct visitors to the PSCCC, Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition and TDI Club Web sites, among other organizations.

This amount of useful information must have been a challenge to collect. However, Freeman said it wasn't hard at all. "Putting it together was actually pretty easy," he said. "I lucked out and had a former tenant put it together for me. After that, I was getting phone calls asking when the fuel was coming every day, mostly from the VW Diesel Club and the TDI Club."

As of March 22, more than 55,750 hits were recorded on the Web site. It includes a "Biodiesel Users Survey," asking questions like: Why do you use biodiesel? How many miles have you driven using biodiesel? Have you had any vehicle problems associated with using biodiesel? What did your car dealer say about biodiesel? Who is your mechanic?

"We started that survey at the end of 2003, and since then, we have documented over a million trouble-free miles with B100," Freeman said. "We ask them for their success story. It would pretty much have to be, otherwise we couldn't continue." The Web site still receives five to six completed surveys per week.

Another link helps visitors who wish to start or join a biodiesel co-op. Co-ops already exist in Tacoma, Olympia, Beacon Hills and Port Townsend, soon to be joined by a co-op in Duval. For $1,900, Dr. Dan's Alternative Fuel Werks supplies customers with a B100 fuel pump, 275-gallon storage tote and 275 gallons of B100. Installation is included. "People can get biodiesel on their farm or their home and share with neighbors," Freeman said. The PSCCC has included the link on its Web site at

Dr. Dan's Alternative Fuel Werks can deliver EPAct credits, which is also advertised on the Web site although not many groups utilize this link, according to Freeman. EPAct credits stemmed from the Energy Policy Act of 1992, which required city, state and federal fleets in noncompliance areas to use biodiesel fuel. Buying 450 gallons of biodiesel earned users one EPAct credit. However, these days, it is more common to trade energy credits than collect them.

"Usually what happens, for example, is somebody needs to put a natural gas power plant somewhere," Freeman said. "They will add pollution to the area. Instead of reducing their pollution, it's cheaper to reduce someone else's pollution [and trade for their EPAct credits.]"
Freeman said his company has a similar contract with Seattle City Light because it is cheaper for Seattle City Light to invest money in another company's EPAct credits than to clean up their own emissions. "They are sponsoring biodiesel in Washington State ferries and part of the metro bus fleet," Freeman said.

Even though Dr. Dan's Alternative Fuel Werks didn't set out to sell biodiesel in the beginning, Freeman is certainly behind the cause now that minimal auto repair is being done at his shop. He said he's too busy selling biodiesel.

"Our typical story is a person comes in on Thursday in their Subaru, asks a couple questions [about biodiesel] and comes back the next week with a new Volkswagen Jetta," Freeman said. "They're paying less money per mile, not contributing to global warming, not buying foreign oil and supporting American farmers. Even though right now [biodiesel] is $3.57 a gallon, it's still cheaper than gasoline." n

Jessica Williams is associate editor of Biodiesel Magazine. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (701) 746-8385.
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