Willie Nelson, Radiohead and More Green Acts Cutting Pollution (and Costs) By Championing Biodiesel on Tour

Willie Nelson
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Willie Nelson performs in concert at ACL Live on Dec. 31, 2015 in Austin, Texas. 

Amid rising concern about climate change, top musicians have turned to biodiesel to reduce tour-bus pollution.

"The early adopters were Neil Young, Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt," among others, says Adam Gardner, co-founder of Reverb, a nonprofit organization based in Maine, whose work includes helping artists reduce the environmental impact of their tours. Gardner's own band, Guster, tours with a biodiesel-fueled bus.
Sheryl Crow, Linkin Park, Dave Matthews Band, Radiohead and Phish also are among the acts labeled "biodiesel rock stars" by Tri-State Biodiesel, a Bronx-based fuel supplier.

Biodiesel -- created from vegetable oil, fat and grease -- is sold as a blend (typically 20 percent) with petroleum-based diesel and reduces pollution, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Courtesy of Shock Ink 
Willie Nelson

Bus-leasing companies say that using the blend, known as B20, doesn't require any engine modifications but will require additional maintenance, and it can be more expensive -- a disincentive for budget-conscious tours.

"I would estimate that biodiesel is 10 to 15 percent more, plus the cost of fuel filters doubles as we change them twice as often," says Douglass Oliver, GM of Nashville-based Pioneer Coach.

Higher costs may be why, despite environmental awareness, "we are receiving fewer biodiesel inquiries," says Oliver.

Hemphill Brothers Coach president/CEO Trent Hemphill says his Nashville-based company has had clients request biodiesel "from time to time," but "when it's in use, we have experienced fuel economy dropping. So we are actually using more fuel, which is not the desired result."

Hemphill's business instead has turned to diesel exhaust fluid on its buses. "DEF is sprayed into the exhaust stream of diesel vehicles to break down dangerous emissions into harmless nitrogen and water," he says. "We have found that our clients are satisfied with these green technologies."

This article was originally published in the May 7 issue of Billboard.