Booster Fills Up With $20M for On-Demand Gas—Is It ‘Sustainable’?

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Add refueling your car to the list of mundane tasks you don’t have to put on your to-do list.

Booster Fuels, a service that brings gas to parked cars on-demand, said Tuesday it has raised $20 million to continue growing in the two large markets where it operates: the San Francisco Bay Area and Dallas-Forth Worth.

The company is based in Burlingame, CA, but it has significant Seattle-area and Texas connections. Co-founder and CEO Frank Mycroft was a vice president of strategy at asteroid mining startup Planetary Resources, based in Redmond, WA, when he landed on the idea of mobile refueling for consumers a couple of years ago. Early backing came from Seattle-based venture investors Madrona Venture Group, Maveron, and Vulcan Capital, Paul Allen’s investment vehicle.

All three joined the Series B funding round, along with other prior investors Version One, Perot Jain LP—the Dallas investment firm of Ross Perot Jr. and Anurag Jain that provided free office space and business development support, prompting Mycroft to move to Texas for the company’s initial market—RRE Ventures, and Conversion Capital, which led the round. New investors Stanford-StartX Fund, BADR investments, U.S. Venture, Inc., also participated. Booster has raised $32 million to date.

Booster allows users to order a fill-up via mobile app while their cars are parked at work. Its service is limited to participating corporate parking lots, where the availability of a while-you-work fill up is billed as a perk, and even an environmentally superior way to buy gas (we’ll get to that in a minute). Booster says more than 300 companies are offering the service in their lots, including Cisco Systems, Oracle, Gilead Sciences, eBay, PepsiCo, and Facebook.

The company, now with more than 50 employees, intends to drive further adoption in its current markets before expanding across the U.S. “We are also rolling out additional services to our customers beyond gas delivery,” Booster says in response to e-mailed questions. The company’s website lists tire inflation, window cleaning, and windshield wiper replacement as options in select locations.

Booster uses custom, purple tanker trucks small enough to negotiate tight office parking lots and a suite of technologies to efficiently route those trucks to the cars of people who order gas via mobile app.

The company’s primary sales pitch is about convenience and time-saving: “Customers share stories with us about how Booster has helped them get to important events on time, get home sooner, and even save their marriage,” the co-founders, including Mycroft, Tyler Raugh, and Diego Netto say in a message on the company’s website. Booster also promises higher-quality gas in regular or premium grades, competitive pricing, and safety in that it can save people from a sketchy night-time trip to the gas station.

But while Booster makes a thin claim of environmental sustainability, the bullishness of at least one of its investors is based on a bleak outlook for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. transportation sector.

“Fuel consumption reached record highs in 2016,” Conversion Capital managing partner Christian Lawless says in a news release announcing the funding. “While autonomous and electric vehicles are certainly the future, last year more than 99 percent of all new autos sold in the U.S. ran on conventional fuels, a trend we don’t see subsiding in the foreseeable future. We are proud to support Booster in its mission to provide a more consumer-friendly, safer, and sustainable refueling experience.”

Not everyone agrees with Lawless. Bloomberg New Energy Finance just released an updated long-term Electric Vehicle Outlook, which forecasts that EVs will account for 54 percent of global new car sales by 2040. “Tumbling battery prices mean that EVs will have lower lifetime costs, and will be cheaper to buy, than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars in most countries by 2025-29,” the report states.

Booster is evaluating mobile electric vehicle charging on select campuses, the company tells Xconomy.

To support its claim of sustainability today, Booster says its customers have so far saved some 630,000 miles of travel to and from gas stations, avoiding 234 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Booster also says it is “experiencing tremendous growth,” having delivered more than 5 million gallons of gas, the combustion of which accounts for some 49,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

In other news, University of Washington researchers on Monday released a new assessment showing a 90 percent chance that global warming will exceed the globally agreed-upon target of 2 degrees Celsius this century.

“Our analysis shows that the goal of 2 degrees is very much a best-case scenario,” says UW professor of statistics and sociology Adrian Raftery, lead author of a paper published in Nature Climate Change. “It is achievable, but only with major, sustained effort on all fronts over the next 80 years.”

Transportation accounted for 27 percent of U.S. emissions in 2015.

No one likes going to the gas station, which is part of the appeal of a service that lets consumers avoid the grimy, smelly place where they put hands directly on the fossil-fuel economy. Indeed, who hasn’t felt their blood-pressure rise as they pump 15 highly flammable gallons into a tank just behind where their kid is strapped into the car seat? The fact that this is a normal, safe activity speaks to just how ingrained in life the internal combustion engine has become.

But does the tech-enabled convenience Booster promises—“an effortless and true modern alternative to the gas station,” as the co-founders put it—also risk further disconnecting us from the dirty reality of our car lifestyles and their impact on our shared environment? Or could Booster use its unique position to do something real about sustainability, such as offering customers carbon offsets for purchase along with their gas?

Asked about that possibility, Booster says it’s “definitely something we’re considering.”