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 Hybridcars.com 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.