#5 – Biofuels for Festivals

About this factsheet

The Powering Live Events with Biofuel factsheet was authored by Julie’s Bicycle in May 2018 in collaboration with other members of the Powerful Thinking Steering group.

This factsheet defines biofuels and the environmental impact of sourcing and using them. It compares different biofuels by type and their impacts, explains the legislative landscape and gives advice on how to source biofuels responsibly as well as listing the main suppliers.

Intro: With event organisers increasingly keen to reduce the environmental impact of events, energy consumption has become one of the priority areas of concern. In particular, the use of alternative fuels, including biofuels, is increasing due to better price competitiveness, availability and the ease of newer fuel types being ‘drop-in’ solutions.

The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) is seen as one of the largest drivers of biofuel usage. However, the EU framework has been met with criticism as there are still no requirements that address social issues such as displacement of locally affordable oils, food or land security, and water and air quality…. Download the full factsheet below:

Download Julie’s Bicycle: Powering Live Event with Biofuels

Biofuels Factsheet Archive: the below factsheet was part of the Powerful Thinking Guide 2017 – it remains for reference only as the above advice replaces it. 

Powerful Thinking has prepared this fact sheet to provide information about biofuels. Since the first version of this factsheet in 2012, a number of new biofuels have become available on the market, making it more important to be aware of the impacts of different choices.

Biofuels, including biodiesel, have become more widely used at events. Waste vegetable oil (WVO) biodiesel is currently meeting 5% of festival power demand according to the Julie’s Bicycle IG Tools.

What is a biofuel?

Biofuels are derived directly from plants, or indirectly from agricultural, commercial, domestic, and/or industrial wastes. They are an alternative to fossil fuels such as diesel or petrol, that form through geological processes over time. There are a number of types of biofuel available, as outlined below. It is very easy to become confused by the variety of terms used to describe this family of similar but different types of fuels – biofuel, biodiesel or renewable diesel.

Types of biofuel and the pros and cons of using them:

WVO (Waste Vegetable Oil) Biodiesel: A type of biofuel produced by reacting animal fats or vegetable oils (e.g. soya bean, palm or waste vegetable oils) with methanol and a catalyst (e.g. sodium hydroxide) to produce a methyl ester. It is currently the most commonly used biofuel in Europe and at UK events.


  • Considered zero carbon, because the carbon emitted when it is burned as a fuel has already been absorbed by the growth of the plant
  • Reduced CO2 & NOx emissions compared with red diesel.
  • Non-toxic & non contaminative.
  • Listed as non-hazardous.
  • Widely available.
  • Many generator companies permit use in their generators.


  • More expensive that red diesel.
  • Although now widely available, there can be supply chain issues where bulk supplies are required at short notice.
  • Purchasing licenses required in some EU countries.
  • Can cause generator issues due to high viscosity.
  • Servicing intervals need to be increased.

HVO (Hydrated Vegetable Oil) Biodiesel:  A type of renewable diesel fuel produced by hydro-treating vegetable oils, such as rapeseed. Unlike regular biodiesel, hydrogen is used as the catalyst in the creation process instead of methanol.


  • The hydro-treating process results in lower PM, CO2 & NOx emissions when compared with methane ester-type biofuels.
  • Its viscosity reduces the aging of engine oil & improves cold start properties.
  • Non-toxic & non-contaminative.
  • Listed as non-hazardous, so free from ADR haulage restrictions.


  • More expensive that red diesel.
  • Limited supply-chain; their can be issues with bulk supplies at short notice.
  • Not all plant hire companies will allow its use in their generator fleet.

Glycerine/glycerol: A natural byproduct of the biodiesel production process.


  • Significantly reduced CO2, NOx & PM emissions, even when compared to other biofuels.
  • Odorless, non-toxic & water-soluble.
  • Non hazardous.
  • Its viscosity actively promotes engine lubrication & extends the life of the catalysts that reduce particulate matter emissions.


  • More expensive than red diesel.
  • Uncertainties around current supply chain.
  • Can only be used in specially modified generator engines.
  • Current shortage of rental specification generators.

Is biofuel a more sustainable choice than standard diesel?

Yes. Biofuels generally have a number of benefits compared to diesel:

  • Carbon Neutral.
  • Non-toxic and harmless to aquatic life.
  • Biodegradable.
  • Contains minimal Sulphur (0.001%).
  • Significant reductions in harmful exhaust emissions.
  • Renewable (for WVO, or sustainably managed crops).
  • Non hazardous.

From a provenance perspective, there’s a marked difference between HVO, WVO and glycerine. WVO is regarded as having the lowest environmental impact because it is recycled. The carbon emitted when it is burned as a fuel has already been absorbed by the growth of the plant during its cultivation. Furthermore, using it as a fuel keeps it out of the waste stream, including sewers where it can cause blockages. HVO, on the other hand, is a virgin crop and is cultivated specifically as the principal composite for biofuels. This raises ethical questions around land usage; displacement of communities, deforestation, water use, and food poverty resulting from commercial pressures for fuel crops.

Glycerine, however, is a natural byproduct of biodiesel production. Provided that the resources used in its manufacture are considered to be ethically sourced, i.e. no palm oil or virgin crop derivatives, then its environmental impact is very low.

So which fuel is the best choice?

The use of both biofuels and biodiesel over fossil fuels is clearly preferable because of the reduction in harmful emissions. Glycerine is a good choice in terms of its very low environmental impact, but with questions over its availability and high cost, locally sourced WVO remains the realistic fuel of choice, where possible, from an environmental perspective.

More FAQs 

Q: Is biodiesel unreliable?
A: No, there are British Standards in place for all fuels – your supplier should buy certified products.

Q: Using biodiesel makes your festival smell like a fish and chip shop.
A: This isn’t the case – standards ensure fuels are well filtered.

Q: Generators often break down when using biofuel
A: To run successfully, generators need slight adaption to run on biofuel, contractor expertise is also required to use 100% biofuel, due to the slightly different nature of the fuel.