Willie Nelson made a big splash in 2007 when he began promoting—with the publication of a slim volume called On The Clean Road Again—his foray into the alternate energy business. The product he was selling was a soybean-based biodiesel product called BioWillie, and on the surface, it made perfect sense: Fuel costs were skyrocketing, truck drivers love Wilie Nelson, farmers—a constituency Nelson has long been invested in—needed more things to grow, and vegetable-based fuels were beginning to come into their own. With an eye to the future, BioWillie was born.
As the Houston Chronicle reports, the future turned out to not be so bright for BioWillie. The reasons for that are numerous, but the end result looks like Nelson selling his Carl’s Corner truck stop, his six-acre fuel plant being listed for sale, and a whole lot of debt:
The publicity cut both ways. As new producers rushed in, speculators bid up the price of source materials like soybeans. Other problems emerged from vexingly unpredictable sources, such as competition for cottonseed oil as nutrition trends shunned trans fats.
And Nelson, who does have other talents, made some unfortunate business decisions. Registering a trademark for BioWillie, he joined the board of Earth Biofuels, a Dallas company that left a trail of unpaid debts, delayed securities filings and disgruntled investors. He forfeited six million shares of stock to resign in 2007 (on April 20, or 4/20).
At this point, the future of BioWillie is settled, but the future of biofuel in general is still a question. Tax credits for biofuel that kept prices low expired in 2013, which has been part of why the BioWillie plant in Carl’s Corner has been on the market for ten months—it’s hard to convince people to invest in a market that depends on government assistance when that assistance isn’t quantified right now—and there are alternatives to fossil fuel-based diesel besides biodiesel that have potential, as well.
All of this hasn’t dampened Willie’s interest in the product, though: The Chronicle reports that he maintains stakes in biodiesel companies in Hawaii and Oregon, and that “it’s definitely something he still cares about.”
Read the whole story from the Chronicle to see exactly why Willie’s business acumen was off on this count.
(AP Photo/Tim Sharp)