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.

Of course, trading biodiesel for petroleum is not a perfect solution to the troubles caused by oil consumption. With current technology, if every car in the U.S. switched to ethanol or biodiesel, we’d have to increase our dependence on fossil fuels to come close to producing enough soy and corn. But the potential exists for these fuels to be produced in a more eco-efficient manner. If farmers took eco-friendly steps to preserve topsoil while ramping up production, methods like crop rotation, companion planting, and using organic pesticides and fertilizers could offset some negative effects of overplanting. At some point, this “green” biofuel could be put to use on farms, and the system would be self-propagating. Regardless, biofuels are currently a much cleaner burning option. Switching to B-20 biodiesel reduces hydrocarbon and sulfur emissions by 20 percent, and carbon monoxide and particulate emissions by 12 percent.

When I spoke with a trucker who exclusively uses biodiesel, Ray “Critter” Iddings, 63, surprised me with his fervor. “If every truck in the U.S. switched to biodiesel, we could reduce consumption of foreign oil by 30 percent!” he told me from his ’97 Freightliner truck as he drove across Missouri. When Iddings started driving trucks in 1965, diesel cost 19 cents per gallon, but he’s not one to pine for the past. He heard about biodiesel for the first time on satellite radio, where Willie Nelson frequently sings its praises, and made the switch immediately. “Forget the environmental and political reasons—which are convincing. Just look it from the pocketbook. I used to get six miles to the gallon. With biofuel, I get seven. So I’m taking home more money at the end of the week.”

In November, BioWille biodiesel cost about $2.50 a gallon, only a few cents more than regular diesel. Strangely, most truckers don’t buy it. The companies with huge fleets of trucks have deals with the larger truck-stop chains and don’t allow their drivers to fuel anywhere else.

“We’re working on that,” say Rob Reed, director of communications for Earth Biofuels. “By the way, did I tell you that Julia Roberts is working with us?” Reed can be excused for shilling, because he’s struggling to educate consumers about the common-sense advantages of his product. To tug at people’s consciences, Reed enlisted the actress to endorse a campaign aimed at convincing school boards to run the nation’s school buses on biodiesel.  

You’ve got to shuck and jive to muscle your way into any market, especially one as entrenched as petroleum. But momentum is building for biodiesel. This year, the EPA will be mandating the use of ultra-low sulfur diesel, which can be made by mixing biodiesel into petroleum diesel. Sulfur is a critical lubricant, but it causes the putrid, black smoke everyone associates with diesel cars. Cutting petroleum diesel with biofuel provides the necessary lubrication without the particulate emissions, the smoke, or the smell.

Back on the road, Iddings was hopeful about his future with biofuel. “Look, Old Blue has 1,410,000 miles on her engine,” he says, referring to his truck. “And with biofuel, she could get another 500,000.”


Biofuel: Any fuel—solid, liquid, or gas—that’s derived from biomass (living organisms). Unlike petroleum or coal, biofuels are renewable resources because the carbon they contain, which is necessary for burning, was recently extracted from the environment by plants.

Biodiesel: A biofuel made from processed vegetable oil, cooking grease, or animal fat. It acts much like petroleum diesel and is used in high-compression diesel engines.

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Issue 25

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