The Sad Ballad of BioWillie Biodiesel

BioWillie, the biodiesel fuel branded with country singer Willie Nelson’s name and face, is back in the news again. The company that owns the BioWillie brand, Earth Biofuels, recently announced it secured funding and is planning to open Willie’s Place, a Texas-size mega-truckstop that will feature the farmer-friendly fuel.

Biodiesel is a non-petroluem renewable fuel that can be used in diesel engines without any modification. Most commercial biodiesel is made from soybean oil, but also can be made from used cooking oil recycled from restaurants and food processing operations.

The Earth Biofuels announcement was surprising since the company has flirted with bankruptcy and seemed unsure of whether it was a vertically integrated biodiesel company—or producer and distributor of liquefied natural gas for much of the past two years. From its highpoint when it had a market cap of $1.5 billion, BioWillie/EarthBiofuels sunk to a point where its celebrity spokesperson quit its board of directors and walked away from 6 million worthless shares of stock. The company had one very serious problem with its biodiesel business: it was selling its product for less than it cost to make it and bring it to market.

A Hopeful Beginning

It was not always that way. One of the founders of the BioWillie brand, Peter Bell, spoke to about the early days of the company. Bell was working at a computer software company in Dallas, Texas, in the early part of this decade. He wanted to do something to help reduce foreign oil imports as well as aid the environmental, so he started buying 55-gallon drums of biodiesel and reselling it to local truckers and diesel car owners. The business grew and soon he had a 450-gallon trailer as the “station” for the fuel. After adding a military contract to supply B20 (20% biodiesel, 80% petrodiesel), Bell was beginning to learn the distribution business.

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  • Jeff

    Just goes to show that good intentions are not all that is needed to develop a sustainable solution. Recycling used cooking oil for fuel appears to be the best source for Bio Diesel not growing corn or some other crop specifically for fuel production.

  • Karkus

    Used cooking oil is a nice, idealistic idea, BUT used cooking oil already has lots of other industrial uses, and those people aren’t happy about you burning it (and therefore the price will go up and restaurants might not give it away free anymore). BUT lets assume that isn’t a problem….even if ALL the used cooking oil was burned as fuel, it would only offset about 1 % of the US diesel consumption.
    So, it’s great if you can find free used cooking oil and burn it, but it’s at best a very minor contribution to solving the peak oil problem.

    By the way, cooking oil generally comes from growing crops (think of the vegetable oil, soybean oil canola oil, etc), so it’s not really that much different from biodiesel/bioethanol produced the regular way from soy/corn. You’re just doing some cooking with it (and then having to clean it up) before you burn it.

  • Boom Boom

    Biofuels can still be part of the solution, but we need to segregate biofuels that help (cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel from waste, etc.) from the biofuels that just made a few people more money (E85 from corn). Biodiesel, even from non-waste soybeans, is not nearly as wasteful as E85 and much easier to process than any of the ethanol types out there.

  • Jeff


    I did not make my point very well. I agree with Boom Boom. Go with solutions that make sense. Not every action we take will be the final solution but even small ones like using waste products for fuel are better than producing Ethenal from food crops.

  • Chauson

    This is going to be a big problem for our country and the world as a whole. I commute 60 miles a day and that sucks. I have a “riding partner” is what we call it. I should have bought a scooter before I bought my car, that would have been the best idea.

  • MattMiller

    I bought a scooter last year. Gets 75 – 80 mpg and goes 55 – 60 mph. Best investment I ever bought. I Drive 15 miles one way to work. Great for short trips like the bank and local stores too. Only problem was it was made in china. America needs to get on the ball. I know of 4 local scooter shops that opened in my area in the past 2 years but they all sell scooters made in china…

  • Milwaukee T

    Biodiesel (and esp Gen-2 biofuels) make more and more economic sense as the price of petrol and diesel continue to rise. I hope Willy’s company sticks around, so they can cash in on their investment as America sees gas/diesel prices go PAST $4 a gallon, to $5 a gallon and $6 a gallon and up. And the world faces oil at $150 a barrel, $200 a barrel…

    I think we can expect the 20% a year increases we’ve seen since 2001 to continue indefinitely.

    Can we all say “paradigm shift”?

  • TimDonnelly

    Matt, there’s actually another problem, aside from being made in China. Some 2-stroke scooters can emit up to 8 times as much pollution as a car. (Which is the reason I never bought a 2-stroke lawnmower.)

    It’s a step in the right direction, sipping gas, but hopefully the emissions for scooters will follow?

    I’ve been trying to track down emissions on scooters, but the there’s lots of talk on the WWW and not a lot of concrete answers.

  • kuda

    I see your point, but what can you do about people who work for almost nothing!
    I live in a small place where the weather is nice most of the time, but the people here insist on driving around in big cars and trucks. Traffic is bad most of the time as a result. I am trying to design a vehicle that will get at least 100 miles to the gal., but R&D is killing my me!

  • Baton Rouge

    I am knew to the whole ‘green’ thing. I am researching for an almost affordable car/vehicle that I can put my future kids in (provided we have not all swam away in the collosal flood of the artic melt down) I am completely torn by diesel, electric, hydrogen, gas, scooters, …. I have a horse, in fact I have 4 I could buy a wagon and maybe they could put up a hitching post out front and I could use one ever week?? I did ride my horse to work when i worked 4 miles away. It was nice, my boss was great, I saved money, my horse was excerized but now I am corporate, 8 miles into downtown traffic. Soon to be 28 miles from work. What do I replace my 2000 Accord 2 door V6 with, you know family, economical, something that will not take the oxygen out of the air for my little girl or boy that is coming in a few years? What can I do to protect them from all this? There is way to much conflict in this world and unfortunately this was just a vent no one has the perfect answer has I read from

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  • Charles Carroll Migeot

    Legalize hemp and you’d have a very practical and efficient source of bio-diesel, as well as robust and sustainable local economies, as well as less people learning how to be criminals by forcibly attending our prisons for non-violent actions, as well as less government corruption, as well as more freedom, as well as many more non-polluting products, as well as less oligarchal control, as well as less fossil fuel monopoly, as well as a healthier environment, …

  • Kuda

    The reason for all the smoke is the oil that is mixed in with the gas. I have used mineral oil in a bike that I put a 2 stroke motor on, and I did not have all the smoke that is usually associated with a 2 stroke! So go use your scooter in good health, and mineral oil!

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