Green-Roofed Gas Station is Pretty, But Is It Actually Sustainable?

In Sweden, with its huge land expanse, plentiful natural resources, and small population, sustainability isn't seen as an impossible goal. Where else could such a lofty ambition - having a vehicle fleet that by 2030 is "not dependent on fossil fuel" - actually get taken seriously?

Swedes don't have the same cynicism about environmentalism and sustainability that Americans might. In fact, if the government tells them to recycle soft plastic or endeavor to stop tossing so much food, much of the population believes the government must have its best interests at heart, and complies.

So for Swedish oil company OKQ8 to declare the gas station it is building in the Sollentuna (Stockholm) suburb of Häggvik 'sustainable' is not really so far-fetched, at least not from a Swedish perspective.

One big change from OKQ8's perspective is that the new station is built with wood glulam beams instead of steel. Glulam stands for glued, laminated timber, and it is a Swedish product, said to be renewable, strong, and insulative. Glulam uses six times less energy than steel in manufacture, and its lightness compared to steel makes it most cost-effective to transport.

OKQ8's station will also have a green, sedum-based roof which will help further insulate the building. Solar panels will provide a portion of electricity needs at the station. Rainwater will be collected and used in the station's car wash. The car wash will also attempt to reduce chemical use, and recycle the water it does use.

Station walls will be insulated with natural wool and recycled fibers. Titanium oxide coatings are being employed at various places including on parking slabs, to help break down dirt, dust, and exhaust fumes. Half of the parking spaces will use a hardy grass instead of concrete paving. Outside the station there will be LED lighting,

The station is providing 8 'fast' recharging points for electric vehicles, a feat OKQ8 says is a first in Europe. These fast chargers take 20 minutes to fully recharge an electric car. Also at the station will be a variety of alternative fuels,
including biodiesel RME, and liquefied natural gas.

OKQ8 will even redirect warm air from food storage fridges to the carwash where it will dry cars as they come off the cleaning conveyer. The fridges will use carbon dioxide for food cooling, which OKQ8 says if effectively 'recycling' some of its greenhouse gas emissions.

In total, heat and energy needs for the station will be supplied through the solar panels, a geothermal heating and cooling system, and district heat.

Alltogether, it's an impressive list of features (a little better than BP's Helios House, for sure). OKQ8 estimates that the station will take 50% less energy to run and maintain than the average gas station. This gas station still sells gas, which in a larger perspective makes it unsustainable if the definition includes "to be sustained for an indefinite period without damaging the environment, or without depleting a resource."

However, OKQ8 is definitely trying to wean itself from gasoline, and though it says it thinks "sustainable automobilism" is not impossible (highly debatable), it seems to have gone farther than most sellers of gasoline to actually make a transition to something else. The company's goal is for 12 percent of its fuel sales to be bio-based within the next three years.

And though some business critics see only costs in pursuing these types of goals, OKQ8 is starting to see some profitable results. The company received the first sustainability certification from the Swedish Department of Energy for its fuels. To get that distinction, OKQ8 had to verify that the biogases (ethanol, methanol, and rapeseed oil) it was selling produced at least 35% less greenhouse gases from field to pump than a regular fossil equivalent.

While the company will have to reverify its results each year, receiving the sustainability seal allows the company to avoid taxes for the biofuels production - a signficant savings.

Rather than knock OKQ8's achievement, perhaps what needs to be fiddled with is the word sustainability itself. It implies a long-term approach that most corporate initiatives lack, and that completely clash with capitalism's ever hungry belly. What term could we use instead? How about ASAP - "as sustainable as possible"?

Tags: Alternative Energy | Energy | Green Building

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