On the Clean Road AgainWillie Nelson is talking about biodiesel again. This time in book form, and the result is On the Clean Road Again: Biodiesel and the Future of the Family Farm.

The 90-some-page pocket-size book (it’s like a li’l Willie you can carry with you everywhere!) is divided into two parts: the past (or the history of petroleum) and the future (in Willie’s world, that’s biodiesel). Thankfully there’s also an afterword to talk about the other future … you know, wind and solar and hydro, etc.

Aside from the cover image of Willie (in chaps!) holding two gas-pump nozzles like sharpshooters, my favorite part of the book (which, ahem, I haven’t actually read) is a comparison of the recipes for petroleum v. biodiesel.


Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Petroleum versus Biodiesel

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

Mother Earth’s Recipe for Petroleum

170 quadrillion tons algae
252 billion tons (approximately) dinosaurs
1 dash or sprinkling of various other prehistoric animals and vegetation (chef’s choice)

In a very large cooking pan, also known as an ocean, cover ingredients generously with warm salty water. All algae, dinosaurs, and vegetation will eventually settle to the bottom, creating a roux.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Cover completely with heavy layers of silt, shale, and muck.

Cook at 400 degrees for 100 million years.

The mixture will eventually turn into a hard rock, and, when stirred, an oily substance will bubble out. Cover the oil with a piece of sandstone (if sandstone isn’t available, any porous rock will do). Next, cover the oily sandstone with a clean nonpermeable rock and simmer continuously for another 200 million years, stirring occasionally.

Yield: At least 2 trillion barrels oil*

*Note: May be difficult and costly to remove from pan

Willie’s Blender Biodiesel

Prep time: 20 minutes

Clean up: Varies considerably

200 milliliters methanol (caution: can make you go blind)
3.5 grams lye
1 liter vegetable oil

Place methanol and lye in blender. Blend. Stop. Blend some more. You have now created sodium methoxide. The sides of the blender should be getting hot. At this point, the mixture can eat through your skin and the fumes are explosive and dangerous to inhale. Have the fire extinguisher and a telephone handy.

Pour vegetable oil in with the sodium methoxide. Blend for 15 minutes. Cheaper blenders can and will fall apart during this process of continuous blending. I like to sing to the mixture right about now. Any good country song will do — something with a good beat. Stop blending and singing after 15 minutes. If done correctly, two layers will form. The bottom layer is glycerin, a by-product of the procedure, and the other layer is biodiesel. The glycerin can be safely composted or made into soap to clean up the mess in the kitchen.

Yield: 1 liter biodiesel