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Germany

German government to stand behind controversial biofuel

German ministers pledged Tuesday to stand behind the E10 biofuel after meeting with petrol industry bosses to discuss making the fuel's introduction run more smoothly. Motorists have been boycotting the new "green gas."

A petrol pump with bio ethanol sign

Ministers hope to build consumer confidence in E10

The German government said after crisis talks Tuesday it was sticking with the biofuel E10 despite major problems since the petrol was introduced at German filling stations last month.

"We need to reduce our dependency on oil," Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen said after the meeting with oil company representatives, automakers and drivers' associations in Berlin.

Röttgen rejected demands to suspend the introduction of the fuel, which has flopped in Germany, despite a successful reception in France last year.

"All those involved in the meeting are in favor of E10 in order to protect the climate, to safeguard the environment, to preserve natural resources and for greater energy security," he said.

Röttgen also implied that E10, which has a 10-percent biofuel content, was the way out of environmental and political disaster:

"We were all witnesses ... to the oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico," he said, adding, "Every day we see [Libyan leader] Gadhafi persecuting and bombarding his own people. Do we want to keep buying oil in order to finance states and regimes like that?"

German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen

Röttgen wants to boost consumer confidence

Failed introduction

The emergency petrol summit was called to discuss a response after customers rejected the unpopular new fuel in favor of the conventional variety.

Some filling stations have run short of standard fuel after switching some of their reserves to E10, which some 70 percent of motorists are not prepared to buy for fear it will damage their engines.

"[Consumer] Information will be reinforced," Economics Minister Rainer Brüderle assured reporters after the meeting.

E10, which contains 10 percent ethanol, is safe for 93 percent of all cars registered in Germany and 99 percent of all German-made cars. Yet, despite it being cheaper than regular gasoline, many drivers have refused to buy it, and motorist associations have encouraged boycotts, saying not enough information was available on which cars were compatible with the fuel.

Rainer Brüderle

Brüderle says affected motorists should be informed directly

Accusations flying

Ahead of the summit, accusations flew as to who was responsible for E10's failure.

Brüderle and Röttgen had blamed the Association of the German Petroleum Industry (MWV), which will be represented at the talks, for not providing enough information to the public.

The MWV had rejected this accusation, claiming that only car manufacturers are capable of providing information about compatibility of makes and models.

Harsh critique

Not everyone was pleased with the outcome of Tuesday's summit.

Green Party leader Cem Özdemir accused the government of having learned nothing from E10's disastrous introduction:

"Röttgen is fooling himself. E10 is not the holy grail of automobile transport in a time of climate change and rising oil prices. A better strategy would be ... low-energy cars, electric cars, speed limits and public transportation."

Opponents to the biofuel claim its net environmental benefits are unclear, as considerable amounts of carbon dioxide are emitted during the harvesting and processing of crops and because the fuel is less efficient.

High demand for the fuel could also mean less farmland available to grow food crops, therefore increasing food prices and inflation.

Author: Richard Connor, David Levitz (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

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