Back in 2005, when country music legend Willie Nelson formed Willie Nelson’s Biodiesel to produce BioWillie (a biodiesel fuel made mainly of vegetable oils from soybeans), most U.S. consumers, and probably even fewer music fans, knew anything about biofuels. Since then, biodiesel, a nontoxic and biodegradable fuel alternative, has become synonymous with green energy, though not the leafy “green” that Willie also famously advocates. Given that the biodiesel and biofuel industry has grown dramatically in recent years, not just in the U.S. but all over the planet, we thought we would provide you with some facts about biodiesel, including its impact on the environment as well as your wallet.
Biodiesel is not vegetable oil:
Biodiesel, often referred to as a “biofuel,” is a fuel for diesel engines made from vegetable oils, primarily soy and corn. Biodiesel fuel is most definitely not the same as straight vegetable oil (SVO), another alternative fuel that, unlike biodiesel fuel, is not registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is not a legal motor fuel.
Biodiesel fuel is jacking up food prices:
Critics of biodiesel, ethanol, and other biofuels argue that the increased demand for alternative fuels has cut into the amount of food that is grown in the U.S., reducing the planet’s food supply and increasing the price of food that is left. High food prices have led to political instability around the world, especially in developing countries, where a family may spend more than half of their income on food.
Biodiesel fuel is not jacking up food prices:
On the other hand, high crude oil prices, which create financial stress for farmers who use oil in nearly every stage of food production; population growth in developing countries; destructive weather, including droughts and floods; and inconsistent and prohibitive export restrictions are all factors that have contributed to an increase in the price of food.
Biodiesel is good for your engine:
Advocates of biodiesel point out that its lubricating properties can reduce the wear on and extend the life of your engine. Biodiesel can be used alone or mixed with petrodiesel, so long as you have a standard diesel engine. However, blends with higher biodiesel concentrations may require some modifications to your engine, so contact your car’s manufacturer if you have any questions. Do NOT put biodiesel fuel into a gasoline engine. Doing so will damage and possibly ruin the engine.
You can fuel a car with grease:
Yes, it’s true, some people mix up biodiesel fuel with grease from a deep fryer. There are kits you can buy to convert your car to run on raw vegetable oil, and they’ll cost you upwards of $2,000. However, unlike biodiesel fuel or ethanol, SVO is not an EPA-approved fuel. So while you may not end up in jail, it is possible you may get fined if a highway patrol officer decides to try and figure out why your vehicle’s exhaust smells like French fries.
Biodiesel is an international industry:
Willie Nelson may insist that BioWillie be used only in the U.S., but biodiesel is being made and sold far beyond the borders of Texas. Countries around the world are exploring how they might profit from the use of biofuels as well as other kinds of renewable and sustainable energy. Two companies in China, China Clean Energy, Inc. and Gushan, produce and sell biodiesel fuel. In India, biodiesel is being used as a cheap, more efficient alternative in trains, tractors, and trucks, as well as stationary engines that ran illegally on kerosene.
Biodiesel significantly reduces emissions:
Using biodiesel fuel significantly reduces the amount of emissions that are released into the air. Emissions are gasses and other particles that create pollution and global warming. Critics of biofuels argue that as farmlands are converted from food to biofuel crops and forests are cut down to create new farmlands to meet the global demand for food, emissions increase, negating the positive impact of biodiesel fuel. However, sustainable farming practices, where what is taken out of the environment is put back in, can help solve this problem.
BioWillie is still in business:
In April 2012, to commemorate Willie Nelson’s 79th birthday, the Maui-based company Pacific Biodiesel began selling fuel from their biodiesel pump as BioWillie with Nelson’s blessing. The BioWillie brand requires that it be produced in America from American feedstock and used in America within a reasonable region. Nelson’s tour buses all run on biodiesel fuel, and his wife Annie continues to serve on the board of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, an organization she co-founded.