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Bio-Diesel: Alternative Fuel with Many Benefits


As the price of oil rises and concerns grow over environmental pollution caused by burning oil and other fossil fuels, the attraction of alternative fuels has grown. One fuel showing a great deal of promise is bio-diesel, which usually comes in the form of vegetable oils blended with standard petroleum diesel. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Carl's Corner, Texas, bio-diesel is getting a boost from one of the most famous Texans of all.

The United States is a big country and people burn a lot of air-polluting fuel moving themselves and their products around.

But at Carl's Corner truck stop, drivers of big, diesel-consuming trucks can follow the lead of country music star and Texas native Willie Nelson and fill up their tanks with clean-burning fuel made from soy beans grown right here in America's heartland.

"This is the first truck stop in the United States to offer bio-diesel blends to truckers… and they are very enthusiastic, they are very excited about it and they are coming from all over the country to get it," said Joseph Jobe, executive director of the National Biodiesel Board.

Truck driver Michael Powell is making the long haul down to the Mexican border at Laredo and he wants to do it all with this fuel, if possible.

"I got to go down to Laredo and unload and re-load," he says. "If I find it down yonder, I'm going to get it and, if not, I will come back here and get it."

Other truckers are equally enthusiastic about using a fuel that reduces carbon dioxide emissions up to 80 percent and helps engines run smoother.

"I think it is a great thing for the environment, it is great for the country, I just think it is an all-around great thing," says one trucker.

"I just noticed when I got out of my truck that the idle on it was perfectly smooth," says another trucker. "You can notice it just in the sound of the engine."

Farmers are big supporters of this fuel because, as Joseph Jobe notes, they can grow the product.

"Bio-diesel is something that can be made from any natural oil, vegetable oil or animal fat, and it is refined by reacting it with an alcohol to remove the glycerin and the remaining compound acts chemically similar to diesel fuel in a diesel engine. It can be used in pure form or blended at any level," he says.

The man who runs the Bio-Willie Company is Peter Bell, a South African native who teamed up with Country singer Willie Nelson less than a year ago.

He says more people will use bio-diesel as it becomes more available in the United States.

"There are 187,000 gas stations in America and there are probably only three or four hundred that carry bio-diesel," he says. "So it is not easy to get the fuel. We have produced a web site that has a map of our Bio-Willie locations and we will be slowly adding to that map as more and more retailers come on with our brand."

One great advantage of bio-fuel is that it can be easily transported and stored using existing infrastructure. Although it is unlikely to replace oil as a major fuel, even a five percent displacement would benefit the environment and reduce dependence on foreign oil imports.

A few final words on the benefits.

"If you can put farmers to work, growing more soybeans to make more bio-fuel, instead of relying on overseas people, I am all for it," a trucker said.

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