On the road again with Bio Willie

| July 02, 2006

Willie Nelson sings the praises of homegrown fuel.

More than a century ago, Rudolf Diesel’s new engines made their debut at the 1900 World’s Fair – powered by peanut oil, the original biodiesel. Back then, diesel engines – fueled solely on vegetable oils – got better fuel mileage than the traditional combustion engines and soon became the norm.

When oil companies took over the market in the 1920s with their cheap, low-grade petroleum diesel, engine manufacturers modified the engines to run on the newfangled fuel. A century later, as environmental concerns, dwindling sources of fossil fuels and conflicts in the Middle East contribute to spiraling costs at the fuel pump, it’s back to the future, where an old idea becomes a hot new trend.

Interest in biodiesel has exploded as its advantages become known, its distribution expands and celebrities jump on the bandwagon. Even President Bush declared biodiesel “one of our nation’s most promising alternative fuel sources” and admonished Americans who are “addicted to oil” to consider alternative fuel sources.

“I didn’t know I was addicted to oil, until the president told me so,” said Willie Nelson, a sheepish grin lighting the creased, time-worn face of the legendary country-western singer and songwriter. “Heck, I guess it’s just something else I gotta get off of,” he told the audience at the April 9 grand opening of the Earth Biofuels biodiesel production plant in Durant, Okla.

Nelson and actor Morgan Freeman toured the facility that will eventually employ 100 people and produce 10 million gallons per year of biodiesel from soybean and canola oil. “The product will then be blended with petroleum to provide a renewable source of energy that will help with emissions,” says Tommy Johnson, CEO of Earth Biofuels.

Biodiesel sales are booming across America to the point they will double this year.

Nelson, known for helping American farmers with his 20 years of Farm Aid, emphasized that biodiesel production helps farmers, reduces dependence on foreign oil and improves air quality.

Morgan Freeman put it bluntly, “This is a life and death situation for our planet.”

After the ribbon cutting, Wilson performed his hits at the Choctaw Coliseum in Durant. He wore a red bandana, black T-shirt and his trademark long braids, no longer those of a red-headed stranger but now aged a mellow gray.

But Nelson’s enthusiasm for the emerging biodiesel industry is anything but mellow, and he’s on the road again promoting the biodiesel message and his own brand of the product, a B20 blend (20 percent biodiesel with 80 percent petroleum) named BioWillie.

First Stop
If Willie Nelson is the most recognizable spokesperson for the biodiesel industry, Carl’s Corner in Hillsboro, Texas, is the unlikely epicenter of the revolution quietly sweeping the trucking nation. Carl’s Corner, the iconic truckstop an hour south of Dallas, was the first truckstop in the nation to sell BioWillie.

Carl Cornelius, the legendary and colorful owner of Carl’s Corner, has welcomed truckers, fueling their trucks and filling their plates, for more than 20 years. His newest venture into the biodiesel market with his long-time friend and poker buddy, Willie Nelson, fits right in with his history of reinventing the 1,700 acres he bought in 1979.

A visit to Carl’s Corner is a fascinating step back into another era when trucking was more like the wild wild West and truckers more like the outlaws Nelson sings about. The evolution of Carl’s Corner is documented on a wall of framed news clippings, but it’s nothing compared to hearing the story from Carl himself.

Tucked back behind the kitchen is his office, complete with a poker table and of course, Willie Nelson warbling from speakers. He tells of how it all began with the purchase of cheap land in the middle of nowhere. He wanted a place where truckers could come and have a drink, enjoy some company and get some rest before heading south to Mexico or North to Oklahoma. Undaunted by the fact that it was a dry county, Cornelius incorporated the land into a town and became its mayor, judge, police and fire chief. Then he served beer and barbeque at the grand opening of his little corner of Texas, dubbing it Carl’s Corner.

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