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Corn+Soybean Digest

Willie's Star Quality Rubs Off On Biodiesel

Willie Nelson has been a longtime advocate for farmers. Add “fuel” producers to that list.

His promotion of biodiesel is a different approach to getting America's truckers and others to use the clean burning “vegetable fuel” he runs in his wife's car, his car and his tour buses when he's “on the road again.”

“There's nothing ever been in my Mercedes but vegetable fuel,” says the legendary country music singer/songwriter of Red-Headed Stranger fame in a special biodiesel promotional video on the Web site.

Nelson was on the board of directors of Earth Biofuels, Inc., headquartered in Dallas, TX, which produces, markets and distributes “BioWillie” biodiesel at truck stops and service stations in eight states.

His belief in biodiesel and biofuels in general has led to the growth of Willie's Place, a truck stop/entertainment center — equipped with a biodiesel plant — in central Texas at Carl's Corner. The location was established in the late 1970s when Willie's buddy, Carl Cornelius, bought the land and later incorporated it into a township in 1986. He is still the self-proclaimed mayor and judge and helps promote biodiesel himself.

Along with refurbished fueling lanes for all types of vehicles, Willie's Place has two restaurants, a convenience store, a stage and auditorium that holds up to 800 people and other amenities in its Old West décor. “It will prove to be a trucker and traveler's oasis,” says Shawne Horn, Earth Biofuels spokesperson.

Willie was instrumental in building a biodiesel plant behind the location that will provide biodiesel there. It produces approximately 6-8 million gallons a year (mgy) using soybeans as its main fuel source. It was originally a Pacific Biodiesel, Inc., project with input from Willie and his wife, Annie.

He considered Carl's Corner a perfect location to market biodiesel to the thousands of truckers who carry cargo along the heavily traveled Interstate-35 corridor that connects Dallas/Fort Worth with Waco, Austin and San Antonio.

The Nelsons also invested in a biodiesel plant in Salem, OR.

“My wife told me she wanted a car that runs on biodiesel,” says the megastar in a video. “I said I'd never heard of it. She bought a Volkswagen diesel. I liked it so well that I bought a Mercedes diesel that's never had anything in it but vegetable fuel.”

“BioWillie” is most commonly a B20 blend, 20% biodiesel and 80% regular diesel, although other blends are available. There is a flagship 10-mgy BioWillie plant in Durant, OK, just north of the Texas border.

“I realize that this could be the future for farmers,” says Willie, who has been joined in the plant promotions by another high-profile performer, actor Morgan Freeman, who actively serves on the Earth Biofuels board of directors.

“The original diesel engine was designed to run off peanut oil,” notes Willie in the BioWillie video. “You can turn sunflowers into biodiesel. Soybeans seem to be the most popular for biodiesel production.”

The tag line on the site is “American Friendly Farmers Growing Fuel For A Stronger America.” American Soybean Association (ASA) Chairman Richard Ostlie likes those words and praises the mileage produced by the support for biodiesel from Nelson and other celebrities.

“Anytime we have a public image, someone with a lot of access to the public talking about renewable fuel, it's great for the industry,” says Ostlie, who farms at Northwood, ND.

“We know that biodiesel is a superior fuel (to regular diesel). There is less pollution and it's good for the country,” he says. “But we have needed more media coverage to educate the public.”

But in the volatile world of biofuels, there are ups and downs. In mid-July, a group of investors filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition against Earth Biofuels, according to an Associated Press story. However, in a statement the company called the creditors' action “unnecessary” and said it will continue producing biodiesel.

Founded in 2004 in Jackson, MS, Earth Biofuels began with a pilot facility, which initially converted restaurant waste grease into biodiesel. The fuel was sold to local farmers at first and then through an independent filling station the company acquired.

In early 2005 it was acquired by Apollo Resources International, a Dallas-based public energy company. Earth Biofuels was one of the first companies to implement the strategy to vertically integrate the biofuels industries.

BioWillie pumps are currently located in eight states, including California, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

In addition, Earth Biofuels is among many biodiesel companies supporting policies that integrate biofuels into the national fuel supply. “Tax incentives have come in,” says Willie, who has often pushed for better government programs for farmers and their commodities. ASA's Ostlie adds that publicity from Nelson and others on the benefits of biofuels have helped get the government biofuels tax incentives established. “We have to look at the farm bill and energy bill because we need some government help to establish biodiesel,” he says.

Willie, as popular now as he was in the 1970s and 1980s, doesn't mind taking on Big Oil in promoting biofuels. But he's also recognized that even major oil companies are getting involved in biofuels production.

Look for Willie to promote biofuels at his annual Farm Aid concert, slated for September in New York City.

“My aim is to help the farmer,” he says. “This looked like a great way to not only help the farmer but to help the trucker and help the environment and keep us from being so dependent on foreign energy.

“Petrochemicals have polluted the Earth. Biodiesel has a 78% less negative impact on the environment. Biodiesel is the next logical thing.

“Biodiesel can help reduce dependency on foreign oil and be an energy source that's clean, renewable and helps domestic farmers find new uses for their products.”

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