DALLAS – "On the Road Again" means something new for Willie Nelson (search) these days — a chance for truckers to fill their tanks with clean-burning biodiesel fuel.
Nelson and three business partners recently formed a company called Willie Nelson's Biodiesel (search) that is marketing the fuel to truck stops. The product — called BioWillie — is made from vegetable oils, mainly soybeans, and can be burned without modification to diesel engines.
It may be difficult to picture the 71-year-old hair-braided Texas rebel as an energy company executive, but the singer's new gig is in many ways about social responsibility — and that is classic Nelson.
"There is really no need going around starting wars over oil. We have it here at home. We have the necessary product, the farmers can grow it," said Nelson, who organized Farm Aid (search) two decades ago to draw attention to the plight of American agriculture.
Nelson told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he began learning about the product a few years ago after his wife purchased a biodiesel-burning car in Hawaii, where the star has a home.
"I got on the computer and punched in biodiesel and found out this could be the future," said Nelson, who now uses the fuel for his cars and tour buses.
Peter Bell, a Texas biodiesel supplier, struck up a friendship with Nelson after filling up one of the tour buses, and the business partnership came together just before Christmas.
Bell said Nelson's name will help the largely unknown fuel — typically purchased by government agencies to promote environmental awareness — gain wider national acceptance. The fuel's average U.S. price per gallon is $1.79.
"What Willie brings to this is the ability to communicate directly with a truck driver. That kind of community is hard for people to get to," Bell said. "When he starts talking, these folks really listen to him. ... It's like having Tiger Woods talk about golf clubs."
Still, a driver can cover many miles without spotting a biodiesel pump. A map on the National Biodiesel Board's Web site shows a heavy concentration of distributors in the Midwest, but very few in other parts of the country.
Nelson's group is currently negotiating with Oklahoma City-based Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores to carry the fuel at its 169 locations nationwide.
Dan Gilligan, president of the Petroleum Marketers Association of America, expects commercial expansion for biodiesel, but says that supplies are still limited and that making the fuel available in northern states is a challenge.
"For terminals to store biodiesel, they have to store it in heated tanks to avoid gelling problems. That's a challenge for the industry to overcome," he said.