Article by Laura Allers-Lowry
Like many other “green” event planners I know, I recently became aware that I may have a problem with biofuel. If you are a planner of large, outdoor events that need generator-sourced electricity, you have walked in my shoes.
You know what it’s like to believe that you are using the least carbon-producing fuel for your event, only to find out that biofuel may not be what you thought it was.
Yes, we boasted how our events did not run on dirty diesel fuel, but on clean-burning biofuel. However, this “green” alternative is not the cure-all we once thought. So many people have a black-and-white thought process when it comes to fuel: Regular fuel = bad, and bio- or eco-anything = good. I am guilty of this as well, but let’s walk through the subject together, and be better “green” event planners when it’s over!
Not all biofuels are created equal. Yes, these alternatives are better than using old-fashioned diesel fuel for an event generator, but the fact is, we all need to know exactly what kind of fuel we are feeding our generators. You can expect controversy no matter which fuel you choose, so pick wisely.
I formed a love affair with biodiesel after the first time I heard about it. I thought it was the answer to all my event generator problems. Even during a family vacation to the desert southwest, I was thrilled to see biodiesel available everywhere! It’s a true renewable energy source, made from vegetable oil straight from soybeans, palm oil, and sunflower seeds. Naturally, I figured biodiesel was the real deal.
But as I have since learned, it has its drawbacks. According to the Diesel Power & Supply website, one of the leading alternative fuel generator leaders in the U.S., there are two significant disadvantages to our beloved fuel:
- Biodiesel cannot be used in cold climates because it becomes a gel at lower temperatures. In other words, it’s out of the question for my midwest event locations.
- Not all generators are built to use this new fuel alternative. It can clog their filters, and cause other problems as well.
As an alternative, those of us in cooler climates can use a biofuel blend known as Bio20. It’s made of 20 percent biodiesel mixed with 80 percent regular diesel. This is the fuel many event operators use in place of regular diesel fuel, in an effort to be more environmentally responsible. You may be thinking, how is this better, if only 20 percent of it is biodiesel? Still, Bio20 is the best we can do in this area for now.
Recently, I was reminded of another fuel that burns cleaner and is more environmentally friendly than just about any other on the market: Propane. Didn’t consider that, did you? Neither did I. Propane101.com, an online resource designed to educate consumers about propane, explains that this energy source is not born of “renewables,” and that leads to controversy over whether it can actually be called a “green” fuel. But its emissions are still impressively low, and it is being considered as a serious event fuel alternative. In fact, many people are working to create and market a generator that can use propane for events’ electrical needs.
Stay tuned, because we may witness a significant paradigm shift in the near future when it comes to fuel. These are exciting times! In the end, we should remain open to change, embrace new alternatives, and do our part to keep the environment in its natural state. That is why they call us “green” event planners.
Laura Allers-Lowry is event coordinator for St. Louis Earth Day, a nonprofit organization.