Willie Nelson's biofueled bus

The country legend, touring the nation in a bus powered by vegetable oil, launches new non-profit supporting the plant-based fuel.

By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- To country legend Willie Nelson, the sweet smell of success may no longer be a great critical review or best-selling album. It might be the smell of french fries.

Nelson, a longtime supporter of American farmers, has been crossing the country in a tour bus powered by biodiesel. Biodiesel can be made from corn, soy, peanuts, animal fat, even used cooking oil. When refined, it can be used in any regular diesel engine.

Willie Nelson.

"I saw where the farmers could actually benefit from growing their own fuel and we could benefit by not having to go around the world starting wars over energy," said the 74-year old musician from inside his tour bus on a recent stop in New York City. "You know, we could be growing our own energy at home."

Nelson said he's been a fan of biodiesel for the last few years.

"My wife, Annie, came to me and said, 'Hey, I want to buy this car that runs on vegetable oil,' and I was a little skeptical naturally," he said. "But she did. She bought a [diesel] Volkswagen Jetta. It ran so well on vegetable oil - clean running, good gas mileage - I bought a [diesel] Mercedes. I was sold."

Nelson was in town supporting the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, a non-profit group founded by his wife Annie and actors Daryl Hannah and Woody Harrelson, among others.

The alliance aims to create a certification standard for biodiesel to ensure the feedstocks are grown in an environmentally responsible mannner. With biodiesel use expanding - there were 1,000 pumps in the U.S. last year compared to 350 in 2005 - supporters say its important to ensure the budding industry doesn't cause environmental problems of its own.

The group recently kicked off its official launch with a concert at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square, where Nelson played until well past midnight.

Before the show, Nelson filled up his bus with cooking grease delivered from Tri-State Biodiesel, a Manhattan-based company that collects used cooking oil from restaurants, processes it, then delivers the fuel to its customers.

Brent Baker, head of the company, said processing the fuel means it can run in any diesel engine without any modifications.

The company, which began its delivery service just two months ago, has six trucks and collects oil from 850 restaurants in New York City.

"We sell to all kinds of companies that want to do the right thing for the environment," said Baker. 'It's a great urban solution."

Back on the bus, Nelson defended biodiesel from critics who say demand for the fuel is driving up the price of food. He said it wasn't practical for everyone to use it, and noted that if people have to pay a bit more for a box of cereal, it might be ok if the money is going to U.S. farmers.

"We don't have to send our money over to the Middle East to fill up our cars and trucks," he said. "We can send it to the farmer over here." Top of page