Green Fuels: a different energy

17 September 2019

In the latest in our series profiling graduates of the Barclays-backed Unreasonable Impact programme, we talk to James Hygate, CEO of biodiesel machinery manufacturer Green Fuels, about the growth of his business from his parents’ garage as a “hobby to allow me not to go to the petrol station” – to a multi-million pound enterprise. 

“It’s been an interesting journey,” says James Hygate, speaking from his factory near Bristol, UK. “If you look at any of the world’s firsts to do with biofuels, we’ve usually been involved.”

In 2003, zoologist Hygate set up a small biodiesel plant in his parents’ garage, based on a wish “to get away personally from using fossil fuels as much as I could”. He remembers that what could soon grow into a multi-billion-pound business began “as a hobby to allow me not to go to the petrol station.

"It was one of the first plants anywhere, and very quickly there were people contacting me to buy equipment.The business started with me loading up my Barclaycard, buying a heap of bits, then buying and selling more components. Growth has been entirely organic and has come a long way.”

Operating in over 80 countries, Hygate’s equipment saves over one million tonnes of CO2 and produces 420 million litres of biofuel annually. Green Fuels’ technology allows the production of sustainable biofuel from waste and is used everywhere from the train used by members of the British royal family to trucks in Dubai, and from cooking oil converters in UK prisons to fuel for forklifts at John Lewis & Partners.

Unreasonable Impact graduate Green Fuels

James Hygate and the Green Fuels team.

“When the company started,” says Hygate, “it was about wanting to make a difference with my own behaviour, but it became increasingly clear that – with what fossil fuels are doing to the planet – you have to make a disproportionate difference.”

“As a company, we have an obligation to make as big a difference as we can, and that’s driving our future plans. We see an opportunity to really grow as a business, using what we’ve learnt over the last few years. It’s been genuinely really enlightening being part of Unreasonable Impact and working with Barclays and Unreasonable Group because when we’re on this mission it’s great to meet other people who have the same views.”

The ‘other people’ at Unreasonable Impact include industry experts, Barclays mentors, investors and fellow entrepreneurs who gather for the worldwide network of accelerators, dedicated to scaling growth-stage companies whose ventures have the potential to employ thousands worldwide while solving some of the world’s most pressing societal and environmental challenges.

Hygate found like minds at the accelerator and credits the programme with providing his business with “focus and clarity. There’s a huge growth opportunity there, but now we have a really clear path.”

James Hygate, Green Fuels

Green Fuels CEO James Hygate

The path to expansion

Green Fuels’ model of building technology and providing it to others has allowed for much success, but the next phase of his business – a gear change for its growth and impact – sees Hygate looking at marine and aviation fuel, and producing the renewable energy at the required scale themselves, which “moves us from being a few million pounds a year business to a multi-billion pounds a year business, and that requires outside funding”.

He credits Barclays with helping him develop a network where he’s getting long-term advice on strategic planning: “We can talk to people at Barclays who have loads of experience in helping other companies reach the next stage in their development.”

The Unreasonable Impact programme focuses on creating the conditions for connections to happen that can lead to the rapid scale of the entrepreneurs’ businesses. In any given programme, each entrepreneur might receive as many as 200 commitments from the various mentors, specialists and investors they meet. Importantly, according to Hygate, the programme has provided a network of supporters that are “credible and involved for the right reasons”.

In return, Green Fuels offers the potential for the sort of huge growth required in a company aiming at denting the dominance of Big Oil and impacting the sustainability of the planet. Currently employing 20 full-time staff near Bristol, Hygate says “within the next five years it’s realistic to say we’ll be 50 times larger than today, and moving from a headcount of tens of people to a thousand or more”.

Green Fuels was founded on supplying equipment to allow farmers, charities and companies to begin biofuel production at small scale and increase as required. Similarly, Unreasonable Impact provides the tools for companies like Green Fuels to scale up and achieve exponential – and necessary – impact and growth.