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Traffic jam on a German highway
Experts said too many cars in Germany wouldn't be able to handle biofuel blendsImage: AP

Clogged Engines

DW staff (als)
April 3, 2008

The German government's plan to introduce a new biofuel blend may now be postponed. Far too many cars are not able to process the fuel, industry sources said, putting a dent in the environment plan.


Auto industry sources said on that more than 2 million cars in Germany would not be able to handle biofuels, thereby exceeding a 1-million limit the German government had set as a pre-condition for use.

The sources said that some 330,000 cars made by German manufacturers, as well as more than 2 million imported cars, could not run on the new fuel and that the cars' owners would be forced to fill up with higher octane, more expensive types of gas.

The controversial plan to include a 10-percent biofuel blend plans could be slowed if it seemed likely that vehicle engines would be damaged by the mixture, a spokesperson for the German Environment Ministry said on Wednesday, April 2.

Person's hand on gas pump
Diesel, unleaded, super, and biofuel blends are showing up at the pumpsImage: AP

Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel had earlier said he would annul a government decree for the fuel, called E-10, be introduced if too many cars were unable to run on it.

"We won't put this regulation into effect if more than 1 million vehicles are affected," Gabriel told the Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper.

Part of a larger emissions reduction plan

The German law would require regular gasoline to be mixed with 10 percent plant-based ethanol, called "E-10," and diesel to be mixed with 7 percent fuel made of plant origin by next year. By 2020, the ratio is supposed to rise to 17 percent.

It is part of a larger plan to curb emissions, with EU states agreeing last year to reduce emissions by at least one-fifth by 2020 from 1990 levels, to use 20 percent of renewable energy sources in power production and 10 percent of biofuels from crops for transportation, also by 2020.

A change in the biofuel plan would demand possibly altering the overall targets.

People riding on horseback through rapeseed fields
Rapeseed can also be used as a biofuelImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

ADAC, Germany's central motoring club, said that biofuels would damage the hoses and gaskets in 3 million cars on German roads, forcing those car owners to buy a more expensive, non-plant super grade of gas instead. ADAC called for the introduction of E-10 to be delayed until 2012.

Gabriel has said he will await figures from the auto industry on the number of cars actually unable to use the fuel before making a final decision on whether or not to introduce the plan.

Environmentalists critical of biofuel farming

Environmentalist organizations are critical of the plan themselves, albeit for a different reason. Greenpeace said on Wednesday that the German plan to blend diesel with biodiesel to combat climate change is detrimental.

Car blowing out exhaust
Biofuel blends are part of a larger German environment plan that includes reducing emissionsImage: AP

The group said it had tested fossil diesel sold at over 40 filling stations across Germany to determine which vegetable oils were used in compulsory biodiesel blends. It found that around 20 percent was soy oil rather than rapeseed oil from the German harvest.

Greenpeace said in a statement that Germany's blending policy would not help to fight global warming since soy oil imports largely came from South America, where tropical rain forests were being slashed to cultivate soybeans.

"Huge areas of tropical rain forests are being destroyed for the new plantations, for example in Argentina," the organization said.

But, Germany's biofuels industry association told Reuters news service that Greenpeace's charges were unjustified, and that soy oil comes from North America, Argentina and Brazil.

Tractor spinning straw into rolls
Straw turned into biofuel? You bet!Image: AP

"Soy oil from the US and Argentina does not have rain forest issues," VDB chief executive Petra Sprick said." Imports from Brazil are largely handled by major trading houses such as ADM, Bunge and Cargill, which have voluntary agreements only to purchase soy oil from sustainable agriculture and not from areas using cleared tropical rain forests."

Germany made the blending of biodiesel with fossil diesel at oil refineries compulsory in January 2007 as part of its policies to combat global warming. Fossil diesel must contain 4.4 percent biodiesel.

Biofuel farming is also driving up world food prices, such as for corn and grains -- which are used to make ethanol.

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