The rapid development in methods for transforming non-edible biomass into platform chemicals and fuels has accelerated over recent years. However, the determination of whether these ‘next-generation’ biofuels perform in a satisfactory manner in engines, turbines and burners has lagged behind. The evaluation of the ecological and toxicological aspects has also been unable to keep up. We show, by using 2,5-dimethylfuran (DMF) as a concrete example, how a range of studies is needed to establish the benefits and risks of using a particular biofuel. In this regard, the variable with the largest impact about which little is known is probably the behaviour of DMF when it is accidentally introduced into groundwater. A primary consideration is to avoid a repetition of the methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) fiasco.