The fatty acid in question is an 18-chain carbon that serves as the base product in the motor oil. “It’s slicker than slick,” Wasson says. The company, called Lubrigreen Biosynthetics, will supply the base product to any oil company that wants to buy it. The oil companies then develop their own brands by enhancing the base product with their own formulations.

Several major oil companies are in the process of developing and testing those formulations. While Wasson is constrained by non-disclosure agreements, he says early tests on the product easily met American Petroleum Institute (API) standards and were very encouraging.

In the meantime, he says they’ve raised enough money to build a million-gallon, continuous-flow plant in Baton Rouge, LA, taking advantage of some extra space available in a facility that already produces conventional base oil for a major oil company. That operation should be online in May 2013.

Later, they plan to build a 100-million-gal. refinery in Houston, in a facility owned by the same company. “I think we’re going to do big things,” Wasson says. “But it takes a lot of money, more money than I ever dreamt. It’s going to take millions of dollars.”

Sticking it out

Ask Wasson why they stuck it out, why they rode the ups and downs, why they gave up controlling interest in their company, and why the ranchers and farmers who first had the dream of turning ag products into bio-based lubricants have yet to put a dime back into their pockets. He says the answer is simple.

“This isn’t about getting rich or going broke,” he says. “When we go home and pull a cinch on a horse, that’s the love of our lives. When we sit in a combine, that’s our lives.” And they want that life to continue not just for them, but for their kids and grandkids.

And they want people in agriculture to know that the opportunities to be a part of America’s energy future aren’t restricted to ethanol and oil wells.

“I don’t have an oil well or gas well on my place. But I have beef.” And if they can compete in bidding for that tallow, even though it’s a low-cost product, perhaps they can add a little value to the cattle that they, and every other beef producer in the U.S., put on the market.

“It isn’t just that my calves weighed 10 lbs. more this year than last year, or that I got a ½ lb. more gain for 3¢ less. I want people to know that there’s another avenue out there helping them get that extra dollar at the end of the year,” he says. “It’s going to be slight. But when that comes out on the shelf, they can say, ‘that’s our product.’ ”