Germany has increased the content of biofuel in its gasoline from five to 10 percent. E10 will save some carbon emissions, but many consumers remain suspicious of the fuel's impact on their vehicles.
Some cars could be damaged by the new E10 fuel
The recent spike in oil prices amid political upheaval in the Middle East comes as a reminder to many that the global economy is largely dependant on oil. Predictions abound that the world's post-recession economic recovery may be in danger.
Steps are being taken to reduce dependency on at least one petroleum-based product. When motorists pull into a gas station in Germany, they'll find new E10 gasoline available to them.
But there's a catch to E10. It contains up to 10 percent ethanol from renewable sources, but packs less punch than conventional gasoline. That means using the same amount of fuel to drive fewer kilometers.
It also can be damaging to some cars, the drivers of which may have no choice but to buy more expensive 98 octane fuel. Standard E5 fuel, with up to five percent ethanol content, and 95 octane fuel are likely to be taken off the market.
Demand for biofuels is expected to increase, but complications remain
Mixing nothing new
Mixing gasoline and diesel with fuel from renewable sources is nothing new in Germany. The market has offered E5 for years, and diesel fuel has long been mixed with up to seven percent biodiesel.
But the new E10 has left some Germans feeling confused. One driver told Deutsche Welle at a gas station that she alternates between a full tank of E10 and a tank of E5, because she's not sure if the new fuel might damage her car.
Klaus Reindl, of the German automobile club ADAC, blames the confusion on the oil industry.
"They had enough time to make clear to their customers which cars can operate on E10 and which ones can't," he told Deutsche Welle. "Any time I bring a new product on the market - regardless of the reasons - I'm responsible for making sure my customers are adequately informed."
German law currently requires that at least 6.25 percent of fuel sold domestically is biofuel. The percentage is sure to grow in the future, and it's up to oil companies to fill the quota.
Taking E5 and 95 octane fuel off the market is one way they may raise prices and increase their margins.
Part of EU goal
Political volatility can drive up oil prices, destabilizing the economy
Despite concerns, Thomas Hagbeck, a spokesman for the German Environment Ministry, said E10 was a step in the right direction.
"From the standpoint of environmental politics this is a good thing," he told Deutsche Welle.
"It's a goal of the EU to increase the amount of biofuel used. This is good for climate protection and energy provision."
Biofuel in Germany must be produced using renewable sources and emit at least 35 percent less greenhouse gas than fossil fuels would.
That's measured by the greenhouse gases generated by planting the crops needed to make the fuel - including the land they displace, output from fertilizer, and the fuel used by farmers and the supply chain.
A fragment of future demand
Elmar Baumann, head of the Association of the German Biofuel Industry, says biofuel requirements are stringent.
"For one thing, you can't alter the ground vegetation when you plant your biomass - for ethanol it's sugar cane, cereal like wheat or rye, and a little bit of corn," he told Deutsche Welle. "All of that has to be grown on an existing field. You can't dig up a pasture or chop down a forest."
And Baumann pointed out that for the amount of controversy it has generated, this five percent addition to the biofuel content of gasoline in Germany represents a mere fraction of what needs to happen in the future.
"What's happening now is just a tiny fragment of what we need to deliver in the future," he said.
Author: Sabine Kinkartz (gps)
Editor: Nathan Witkop