Willie Nelson, New York Times Interview (12/30/2005)

 

His Car Smelling Like French Fries, Willie Nelson Sells Biodiesel
www.newyorktimes.com
Danny Hakim
Published: December 30, 2005

Willie Nelson drives a Mercedes.  But do not lose faith, true believers. The exhaust from Mr. Nelson’s diesel-powered Mercedes smells like peanuts, or French fries, or whatever alternative fuel happens to be in his tank.

While Bono tries to change the world by hobnobbing with politicians and Sir Bob Geldof plays host to his mega-benefit concerts, Willie Nelson has birthed his own brand of alternative fuel. It is called, fittingly enough, BioWillie. And in BioWillie, Mr. Nelson, 72, has blended two of his biggest concerns: his love of family farmers and disdain for the Iraq war.

BioWillie is a type of biodiesel, a fuel that can be made from any number of crops and run in a normal diesel engine. If it sounds like a joke, a number of businesses, as well as city and state and county governments, have been switching their transportation fleets to biodiesel blends over the last year. The rationale is that it is a domestic fuel that can provide profit to farmers and that it will help the environment, though environmentalists are not universally enthusiastic about it.

“I knew we needed to have something that would keep us from being so dependent on foreign oil, and when I heard about biodiesel, a light come on, and I said, ‘Hey, here’s the future for the farmers, the future for the environment, the future for the truckers,” Mr. Nelson said in an interview this month. “It seems like that’s good for the whole world if we can start growing our own fuel instead of starting wars over it.

“In some ways, it is a return to the origins of the diesel engine; some of Rudolf Diesel’s first engines ran on peanut oil more than a century ago.Last week, a cargo-loading company that operates in the Port of Seattle said that to fuel its equipment next year it would purchase 800,000 gallons of biodiesel, most of it a blend known as B20 that is 80 percent conventional diesel. As of late September, Minnesota requires almost all diesel fuel sold in the state to be 2 percent biodiesel, and Cincinnati started using a 30 percent biodiesel blend, B30, in its city buses because of concerns about fuel shortages after Hurricane Katrina.

Biodiesel can cost as much as a $1 a gallon more than regular diesel when pure, though it is typically sold as B20. Prices vary depending on volume and region, and new tax incentives are aimed at closing the cost gap. BioWillie was selling for $2.37 a gallon yesterday in Carl’s Corner, Mr. Nelson’s own truck stop in Texas that serves as headquarters of his year-old company, Willie Nelson BioDiesel. That was just 4 cents more than the conventional diesel selling at another station nearby.

Mr. Nelson’s BioWillie is aimed mostly at truckers and is usually sold as B20 (pure biodiesel can congeal in colder climates). BioWillie is currently sold at 13 gas stations and truck stops in four states (with Texas having the most), and it fuels the buses and trucks for Mr. Nelson’s tours.If BioWillie demonstrates anything, it is that the combination of Middle East wars, global warming and rising prices at the pump has led many people to offer solutions to the world’s energy’s squeeze. Depending on whom you ask, cars will someday run on hydrogen, electricity, natural gas or ethanol.

Mr. Nelson is making his bet on biodiesel.

“I don’t like the war,” he said in the interview. “In fact, I don’t know if you ever remember a couple years ago, it was Christmas day, and my son Lukas was born on Christmas Day, he’s like 16 years old, and we were watching TV and there was just all kind of hell breaking loose and people getting killed and I was talking to my wife, Annie, and I said, You know, all the mothers crying and the babies dying and she said, ‘Well, you ought to go write that.’ “So I wrote a song called ‘Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?’ “He began to recite the first verse: 

So many things going on in the world,
Babies dying, mothers crying.Just how much oil is human life worth?
And whatever happened to peace on earth?”

That upset a lot of people, as you can imagine,” he continued.

“I’ve been upset about this war from the beginning and I’ve known it’s all about oil.”

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