Truckin’ Awesome

Willie Nelson brings biofuel to the red states

By Philip Armour

Truckers just can’t wait to get on the road again with BioWillie.

“Why do people use biodiesel? Because they love it, that’s why,” Carl Cornelius barks at me over the phone. “Heck, even Wal-Mart fuels here.”

Cornelius is the owner of Carl’s Corner Truck Stop in central Texas, and when we spoke he was in the process of tearing down and rebuilding his entire truck stop, ordering workers around between sentences. “We just finished building a biofuel plant out back that converts Texas-grown cottonseed into biodiesel,” Cornelius continued, before launching into a laundry list of biodiesel’s advantages over petroleum diesel. “It cools and lubricates the engine, reduces vibrations, cleans the motor. You gettin’ all this?”

Demographically, Cornelius may seem like an unlikely member of the green movement, but running trucks on fuel made from plants is a concept that’s close to the heartland. In fact, due to its abundance of soy farms, the Midwest has more filling stations that sell biofuel than anywhere else in the country. Minnesota has even legislated that all diesel sold in the state must be blended with biodiesel.

In Texas, musician Willie Nelson has thrown his celebrity—and money—behind a new brand of biodiesel called BioWillie, which is what Cornelius sells. Expanding on his work with Farm Aid, the concert series and nonprofit organization he co-founded in 1985, Nelson had the good sense to focus his biodiesel sales on truckers. Diesel passenger cars only make up a tiny percent of the market, but there are millions of truckers on America’s highways, and they each drive several thousand miles per week at six miles to the gallon. That means U.S. truckers buy up to a billion gallons of diesel fuel or more per week.

Right now, less than one percent of U.S. diesel sales are biodiesel. But Nelson is convinced that if enough truckers buy American-made biofuel, the U.S. could generate much-needed income for farmers while reducing dependence on foreign oil. “There is really no need to go around starting wars over oil. We have it here at home. We have the necessary product, the farmers can grow it,” Nelson said in a release.

BioWillie is just one of hundreds of brands of biofuel that companies sell at about 890 retail outlets nationwide, according to the National Biodiesel Board. Earth Biofuels (which owns the BioWillie brand) has its main production facility in Durant, Oklahoma, and primarily makes its biodiesel from American-grown soybeans. It currently sells BioWillie at a total of 22 truck stops in Texas, Oklahoma, California, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi. BioWille sells B-20 biodiesel, not the cleaner-burning B-100 (100% biofuel), but it’s still considerably better than the industry norm, which is closer to B-5.  The blend gets pretty close to the same mileage per gallon as standard diesel; some fans say it does even better.

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Issue 25

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