Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Biofuel River Don't Run Dry
With the world's oil reserves running out and the world's people hating our consumptive guts, Americans are scrambling to find an alternative to that sweet, delicious, intoxicating fuel that powers the vehicles that hold the bumpers that display our flag decals. There are enough promising futuristic alternatives to gasoline (hydrogen fuel cells, nuclear Segways) being bandied about to make a Battlestar Gallactica fan weep onto her Wired Magazine. But there are some exciting fuel alternatives gaining traction here today.

One of those is biodiesel, an aromatic concoction of renewable, non-toxic vegetable oils that can be burned in conventional diesel engines. Biodiesel is biodegradable, has fewer emissions than regular diesel when burned, and comes primarily from soybeans, which is Kentucky's fourth-largest cash crop after marijuana, corn squeezins and tobacco. Appropriately enough, small-farm champion and hookah enthusiast Willie Nelson has his own blend of biodiesel, called BioWillie. And Kentucky is offering BioWillie manufacturer Earth Biofuels $1.12 million in tax incentives to build a refinery in Fulton County. The plant would produce 30 million gallons of BioWillie per year, employ 50 workers, and provide markets for local farmers and comedians for years to come.

Beside the environmental, economic, political and comedy advantages, BioWille also exudes the pleasant smell of doughnuts, according to, which should appeal to a broad cross-section of Americans. (In a cute Crabtree-&-Evelyn-esque tangent, the site goes on to explain that biodiesel is easier on mechanics' hands, protecting them from "cracking and redness." Aw.)

There may be drawbacks to biodiesel, although it's hard to trust the veracity of any report that criticizes a product that competes with the oil industry. Possible negatives: The fuel can gel in cold weather, be slightly higher in particulate emissions, and not run well in all current diesel engines. And there's this niggling little problem: rising soybean demand contributes to deforestation, particularly in South America, where soy plantations are replacing old-growth forest at an alarming rate.

Currently, BioWillie is available mainly to big-rig drivers and those humongo Ford, Dodge and Chevy pickup trucks that seem to be popular at soccer matches (sumbitches'll git up 'n' haul!). And while diesel cars are all the rage in Europe, only Volkswagen and Mercedes currently offer models widely available in the US. Still, with the Middle East Bushwhacked, the world's oil reserves dwindling, and American energy policy decision-makers as indecisive as a stoner at Krispy Kreme, give Willie – and the Commonwealth of Kentucky - some props for trying to make a difference.