On the road again with Bio Willie

| July 02, 2006

Over the years the truckstop has featured a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, strip joint, drive- through beer window, drive-in movie theater, chapel and even a masseuse. There have been stories, national TV interviews and even a song – “The Dreamer” – written about Carl’s Corner and its larger-than-life host, Cornelius.

Things were going along just fine when personal tragedy and then a fire struck.

Cornelius says he was about to throw in the towel when Nelson called and told him to hang on, don’t shut down yet. Nelson’s wife Annie came back from their home in Hawaii excited about using an alternative form of diesel fuel to power her Volkswagen Jetta. Nelson, intrigued, decided to look into it for his own buses and Mercedes.

That quickly led to the idea of marketing a soybean-based blend of diesel for truck drivers. He talked Cornelius into joining him and two other partners in the effort. The BioWillie brand was developed by Nelson and Peter Bell of Distribution Drive, a subsidiary of Earth Biofuels. Whether the deed to Carl’s Corner was lost and won again in a poker game is an oft-discussed topic. “Shoot, the deed always gets put on the table sooner or later,” says Cornelius.

What happened next was a series of events that just may have started a revolution. The swimming pool was paved over to make room for a 900-seat, state-of-the art theater inside the truckstop, where Nelson and other country singers perform. Cornelius changed out all four pumps and installed only BioWillie fuel with plans to add more lanes in the future. He recently broke ground for a biodiesel production facility on land behind the truckstop.

And Cornelius isn’t the only one to jump on the biodiesel bandwagon. Truckstops are lining up to carry biodiesel, celebrities (Daryl Hannah, Neil Young, Morgan Freeman) are turning out for ribbon cutting, and grand openings of biodiesel plants, and Motiva Enterprises and Earth Biofuels Inc. just opened a new petroleum terminal in Dallas, where pre-blended biodiesel can be loaded onto tankers.

Things are happening fast, and the rest of the industry is starting to sit up and take notice. In fact, Jenna Higgins, National Biodiesel Board spokesperson, says that in 2005, 75 million gallons of biodiesel were sold in the United States. While this represents only .02 percent of the 34 billion gallons of petroleum-based diesel sold, it’s three times more than the amount sold in 2004. She says biodiesel usage is on track to double in 2006, according to a U.S. Department of Energy forecast, and there are more than 700 locations nationwide carrying the fuel.

No longer regarded as a fad or novelty, the biodiesel movement is gaining momentum with truckers – many of whom identify with the plight of small farmers. They see the purchase of a product like BioWillie as a way to show their support for farmers and do their part to reduce foreign dependence on oil. “Truckers understand farmers and vice versa,” says Nelson. “There’s no other segment more affected by rising fuel prices.”

Truckers, for the most part, seem to agree. eTrucker.com polls found that while 67 percent of drivers surveyed have not tried biodiesel yet, 63 percent are willing to try biodiesel if it becomes readily available.
Cornelius and Nelson keep notebooks full of honest comments from truckers who have been fueling with BioWillie diesel since last summer. Almost all have been positive, although there are questions, misconceptions and concerns sprinkled throughout the pages.

The use of biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine reduces net (over the fuel production process) CO2 emissions by 78 percent compared to diesel fuel. It’s better for the environment because it’s made from renewable resources, which also helps farmers and decreases dependence on foreign oil.

Truckers say they not only feel good about using it and helping American farmers, they get good fuel mileage and better power, including increased lubricity. The comment books at Carl’s Corner are full of such testimonies. Harold Thorton filled his truck at Carl’s Corner and said his fuel mileage went up 2.2 mpg. Ray Iddings, known by his CB handle as “Critter,” wrote: “I got 5.2 miles per gallon using regular, and now I’m getting about 7 miles to the gallon with biodiesel. My engine runs with less noise and more power.”

Bob Burkhart, a trucker and farmer in Lawrence, Mich., has been using biodiesel since his fuel supplier on the farm switched to a soy-based diesel fuel in 2000. He uses a B5 blend for both his tractors and trucks, and in the winter it was treated with additives as needed for the cold temperatures.

“We saw an immediate decrease in the black exhaust smoke, indicating a better, cleaner fuel burn,” says Burkhart, who hauls for Bulkmatic Transport of Griffith, Ind. They had no problems with gelling, waxing or fuel filter clogging either, he says. “As farmers, we liked the fact that the fuel was made from soybeans, a product we grow on about 1,600 acres. Our cost for the fuel was compatible with traditional diesel, and the increased lubricity is a huge advantage,” he says.

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