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The New York Times

The New York Times


On the Road Again, Where Biodiesel is a Rising Star
Published: July 5, 2006

CARL'S CORNER, Tex., July 4 — Soaring fuel costs have many consumers curtailing needless driving trips. But not Mike Frybarger. Last summer, the 49-year-old independent trucker got in his Volvo 770 tractor-trailer, drove for 2 1/2 days and logged more than 1,200 miles. He passed hundreds of service stations, without stopping at any of them. Convenience and cheap diesel fuel? He did not need them.

Instead, he filled up his truck's 300-gallon tank with biodiesel at Carl's Corner, a Texas truck stop that is at the center of the nation's growing biodiesel industry.

"I heard about biodiesel on XM Radio," Mr. Frybarger said. "Bill Mack has Willie come on his show and actually talk to truckers. Before Willie got involved, biodiesel wasn't well known. But once Willie got behind it, he brought biodiesel to the forefront."

Willie is the musician Willie Nelson. Biodiesel is a fuel made by the chemical mixing of alcohol and fats, greases or oils from animals or vegetables. Proponents of this alternative fuel, including Mr. Nelson, point out that one of Rudolf Diesel's first engines was powered by peanut oil. But by the time the Model T began rolling off Henry Ford's assembly lines, it was powered by petrochemical products, not vegetable oils.

In 2002, Mr. Nelson got a complete update on biodiesel from a source close to home: his wife, Annie. Ms. Nelson bought a Volkswagen Jetta that could run on the fuel and had it shipped to their home on Maui.

Mr. Nelson immediately took to the idea of driving such a vehicle. "It didn't take him but a minute to figure out how much sense it made for family farmers. And if you support farmers, you support the nation," Ms. Nelson said. In a phone interview on Tuesday, Ms. Nelson said: "I had done my research, and I bought it specifically because I wanted it to run on biodiesel."

She added: "I told the dealer to only put in enough diesel to get me from the port to the pump. Since then, for the last four years, it's never run on anything but biodiesel."

Now all of the couple's vehicles run on biodiesel: the original Jetta, a Mercedes diesel and a Dodge Ram at their Maui residence; an Excursion and another Jetta in California; and another Mercedes in Texas. "Don't forget the tour buses and all the tractors in Texas," Mr. Nelson said.

The Nelsons have invested in two biodiesel production facilities, including one at Carl's Corner, where a grand opening took place on Monday. The Dallas Mavericks assistant coach, Del Harris, the former Dallas Mavericks head coach, Don Nelson, and Carl Cornelius's original partner at the truck stop, the Dallas stockbroker, Monk White, are a few of the other investors in the plant, which will be run by Pacific Biodiesel, the company that fuels the Nelsons' cars in Hawaii.

"This is our ninth and largest plant," said Bob King, the Pacific Biodiesel president. "Initially, it will produce 8,000 gallons of biodiesel per day. That comes out to more than two million gallons annually. And we have the capacity to double production here at Carl's Corner to more than four million gallons." Most biodiesel fuels are not pure biodiesel, but a blend. According to Mr. King, the mixture at Carl's Corner is 20 percent biodiesel, which means the truck stop will be capable of selling more than 10 million gallons to truckers each year.

That pleases Mr. Frybarger, who is committed to using biodiesel whenever possible and routinely logs on to a Web site for truckers to pinpoint the location of truck-accessible biodiesel retail locations nationwide.

Mr. Frybarger readily admits that Carl's Corner is his favorite, particularly over the Independence Day holiday. In addition to filling his truck up with biodiesel, he also attends Willie's Picnic at Carl's, a weeklong concert that culminated Monday night with performances by Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ray Price, and, of course, Mr. Nelson himself.

Mr. Frybarger said, "Just to hear Willie sing 'I Fly Away' is worth a trip by itself."