Whole Fuels
At this convenience chain, the "green" runs deeper than veggie wraps and solar-roasted coffee. The gas is eco-friendly too.
By Georgia Flight

(Business 2.0) – The days of filling your pickup with unleaded while munching shrink-wrapped beef jerky may be numbered if Ottawa-based Topia Energy has its way. In September the company, Canada's largest producer and distributor of biodiesel fuel, opened the first of a planned nationwide chain of "alternative" fuel stations called GreenStop.

GreenStop pumps only renewable fuel blends--traditional diesel spiked with cooking oil, and gasoline mixed with corn ethanol. And its convenience store, dubbed Real Café, takes the concept a step further, eschewing cigarettes and candy bars in favor of organic veggie wraps and coffee that's been roasted with the aid of solar energy. "We're hoping to end the era of stale coffee and bad doughnuts," says Govindh Jayaraman, Topia's president. "We have just been waiting for the right time to make it happen."

Given the skyrocketing cost of fuel and mile-long lines at organic supermarkets like Whole Foods, the time may be now. GreenStop's biodiesel costs about $3.75 Canadian per gallon ($3.17 U.S.), about the same as regular unleaded in Canada. The first GreenStop station, in Ottawa, is itself "green," constructed from renewable materials such as compressed strawboard and chemical-free linoleum. "There are green electric power companies and green food chains," says Scott Sklar, president of the Stella Group, a Washington, D.C., strategic energy firm. "It's not a giant leap to develop green gas stations."

Two of GreenStop's three fuels--B20, which combines 20 percent biodiesel with 80 percent regular diesel, and E10, which is 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent traditional gasoline--can be burned by standard engines. (The third, which is 85 percent ethanol, is for use in "flexible fuel" vehicles only.) Gas made from such seemingly low proportions of renewable resources might not solve the world's developing energy crisis, but Topia's Jayaraman believes it's an important start. "Imagine if all of a sudden someone were to report that there is 10 percent more gas and 20 percent more diesel in the world than we thought there was," he says. "We've seen what happens when supply goes the other way--prices shoot up. The same is true in reverse."

Analyst Sklar cautions that while prices for ethanol and biodiesel have been stable lately, the farm commodities they're made from are volatile over the long term. And David Demers, CEO of environmental consultancy Westport Innovations, points out that fuels like E10 and B20 can have even worse tailpipe emissions than standard gasoline.

Still, Topia plans to open 15 GreenStop stations across Canada and the northeast United States within the next year and to reach 50 locations by the end of 2007. If it hits those targets, Jayaraman says, his company should see sales of $1.5 million in 2006 and upwards of $3 million within three years. It's another sign that there may soon be more than one kind of "green" in green energy.

GreenStop's Alternative Fill-'Er-Ups

[*] U.S. dollars. Source: GreenStop