Sunday, October 02, 2005

Introduction Part II: A Bit About Me.

I am a biodiesel professional, consumer, and advocate. Since spring of this year I have been at Sigma Capital ( as Vice President, Energy and Director, Biofuels. With the recent explosive growth in the biodiesel industry, pretty much all of my time has been spent on biodiesel deals. I also serve as the President of the San Francisco Biofuels Cooperative (SF Biofuels, ), an all volunteer buyer’s co-op. I was one of the founding members of the co-op and helped incorporate the co-op as a California Consumers Cooperative Corporation earlier this year.

Following the incorporation of SF Biofuels, I was approached by several of the San Francisco Bay Area biodiesel cooperatives for assistance in helping them incorporate as well. As part of my small legal practice, I agreed to help these co-op's on a substantially reduced fee basis because I felt it was the right thing to do. I have now assisted the SoCo Biodiesel Co-op in Sonoma County, the Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley and most recently, the biodiesel co-op in Pacifica, CA. It has been a pleasure assisting these pioneers move biodiesel forwarded in their communities.

Prior to this biodiesel adventure, I was an attorney at Heller Ehrman/Venture Law Group ( in Silicon Valley where I practiced corporate and security law for five years. My specialty was working with high-tech startups, helping raise venture capital, executing mergers and acquisitions and facilitating IPOs.

Everyone has their “how I came to biodiesel story.” For what it is worth, here's mine.

After graduating from law school, my then girlfriend and now wife and I spent six months traveling around the world. A good portion of that time was spent visiting her family in Italy. Any time we took the family Vovlo, which had been converted to compressed natural gas, on the Italian autostrata we were inevitably passed by several cars traveling at extraordinary speed, Italian style. A good portion of those cars were Audi TDIs. I had never seen a diesel such as this before in my life.

When I returned home and the old beat-up Volvo I had been driving since law school died, I found myself in the market for a new vehicle. Remembering all the diesels I had seen in Europe, I found myself a Volkswagen Passat TDI. (Little did I know just how lucky I was to find a TDI. If I were looking today, it would be almost impossible. California currently does not allow the sale of new passenger diesels and used ones are very hard to find as demand for cars that can run on biodiesel has gone through the roof.)

About a year later, as I was driving around, I heard about biodiesel on NPR. I have always been an NPR junkie. I believe it was All Things Considered. What I am certain of is that I learned about biodiesel because a gentleman from Seattle took the time to call the comment line and leave a message regarding a program that had run earlier in the week about diesel school buses and their detrimental health effect on children. The caller mentioned that he had been running clean-burning biodiesel in his Mercedes for some time and that he felt the story fell short by not mentioning that biodiesel use in school buses was a way to immediately improve the health of our children. I am forever in debt to this gentleman who I will probably never know.

When I got home I googled "biodiesel" and found an entire world that I did not know existed. I did what I could to educate myself on the various web sites and boards. Having made the decision that I wanted to try biodiesel in my car I looked for support in my local community. At that time, San Francisco was fortunate to be one of the few cities in the country that had a publicly available B100 pump. We were fortunate because Randall VonWedell of CytoCulture ( had taken the initiative to write a grant and work with a gas station owner to put the pump in. The pump was the first such pump in the continental United States ( Thank you Randall!

I sent in my money and application to CytoCulture for my card lock. I received back their new member packet, which included lots of cautionary information, including a recommendation to flush your fuel tank prior to using biodiesel. I spoke to my mechanic about this and it was going to be rather expensive. Actually, they thought it would be cheaper to buy a new fuel tank than have my existing fuel tank flushed. Not sure what to do, I called the Berkeley Biodiesel Collective (, whose web site had been a great help when I was initially learning about biodiesel. Unfortunately, I cannot recall who I spoke to that day, but they were wonderful and very generous with their time and knowledge. They informed me that the advice was right, but very cautious, and that I would likely be okay not flushing out my fuel tank so long as I monitored my fuel filter and was prepared to change it should it clog. Again, I will forever be indebted to their kind and generous advice.

I was now ready to go. I went down to the Olympian station on 3rd St. and filled up my car. The change was immediately noticeable. The engine was quieter and the exhaust had the now familiar smell of french fries or popcorn (it was soy-based B100). I have never turned back. I love biodiesel! This is a fuel that has changed the course of my life.

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