Long an icon of country music, Willie Nelson also has become a symbol of biodiesel.
In 2005, Nelson co-founded a company called Willie Nelson’s Biodiesel to market the fuel -- branded BioWillie -- to truck stops (see New York Times and Associated Press stories).
Earth Biofuels, a Jackson, Miss.-based biofuel company, bought an exclusive license to sell BioWillie. And on Monday, the company announced it had raised an undisclosed amount of financing to complete construction at a truck stop that will sell blends of BioWillie biodiesel and ethanol.
Aside from drawing business using biofuels, the truck stop, called "Willie’s Place at Carl’s Corner," also will include two restaurants, a convenience store, a saloon and a gift shop selling Willie Nelson merchandise.
Perhaps all those amenities can help make biofuel more attractive. Because so far, while biodiesel and ethanol production have increased, demand hasn’t kept pace (see Biofuels Battle the Highs and Lows of Market Volatility, Ethanol Margins Suffer and Ethanol’s Tough Times Continue).
Part of the problem has been a paucity of pumps that dispense biofuels. That’s a problem that companies like Earth Biofuels and even General Motors -- in spite of Vice Chairman Bob Lutz calling global warming "a crock" (see his blog here) -- have been tackling.
In the case of ethanol, blenders also haven’t fully taken advantage of the ability to mix 10 percent of ethanol into gasoline in the United States. According to Rick Kment, a biofuels analyst with research firm DTN, one reason is -- oddly enough -- because prices are so low.
Ethanol prices averaged $2.33 per gallon Thursday, compared to gasoline prices averaging $3.10 per gallon. You might think the low price for ethanol would make blenders buy up as much ethanol as they could blend.
But while ethanol prices have to be lower than gasoline prices to make it worth the cost of transporting and blending the fuel, buyers also hold off if they think prices will continue to fall, Kment said.
That decision to wait, in turn, reduces demand and lowers prices even more.
"The theory is, in a falling market, you’re better off buying next week, because it’ll be cheaper," he said. "So you have buyers standing on the sidelines, unwilling to buy more than [what they immediately] need, thinking that the prices are going to move lower. It’s a matter of when they pull the trigger."
Perhaps some star power will help prod consumers, at least, to shoot for more biofuel in their vehicles.