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Red Light for Green Gas?

DW staff (jg)
February 22, 2008

The German government has said it might scrap plans for a 5 percent rise in the amount of biofuel added to gasoline. The move has been prompted by concerns about motorists with cars that are not biofuel compatible.

Gasoline pumps. Man picking up a petrol pump.
There are worries about the cost of blended gas for German motoristsImage: idw/iStockfoto

The German automobile association ADAC has warned that up to 1.5 million drivers will be unable to use the ethanol-richer gasoline, forcing them to switch to more expensive premium fuels when it is introduced.

The government had based its plans on statistics from the German car industry which estimated that around 375,000 car owners would be adversely affected.

Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel has said on Friday, Feb. 22, that the measure to introduce a 10 percent blending rate would be torpedoed if the ADAC's statistics proved to be correct.

This is just the latest setback to the biofuel lobby. Critics have recently attacked the social and environmental cost of producing fuel from plants.

Ministry rechecking its facts

Man filling his car at a bioethanol filling station
Millions of cars already run on the alternative fuelImage: obs/Ford-Werke GmbH

Gabriel, a member of the Social Democratic Party, told German broadcaster ARD that his ministry had put the plans on hold a few weeks ago, so it could recheck the data. The proposals to raise rate biofuel blending rates from 5 percent to 10 percent by 2010 had originally been welcomed.

The Christian Democrats, currently in grand coalition with the Social Democrats, announced their opposition to the higher biofuel target on Wednesday, saying that it would cost motorists with older vehicles an additional 150 million euros ($223 million).

The ADAC has also underlined that there could be other negative implications if Germany takes this step alone, such as an increase of motorists tanking up in neighboring countries and the corresponding loss of tax revenue to the German government.

Potential problem for foreign visitors

Rapeseed field
Hay fever sufferers and opponents of monocultural farming oppose biofuelsImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Foreign drivers may also not be sufficiently informed about any new blend and could inadvertently suffer motor damage, the organization warned.

"This is not just a question of whether the planned introduction of E10 gasoline blended with 10 percent ethanol will be compatible with millions of cars," said Peter Meyer, the head of the ADAC. "The ADAC is also pleading for an honest assessment of all aspects of blending, including the overall ecological and social costs."

Green groups have predicted that expanding the production of agricultural products such as corn, soybeans and rapeseed to make biofuels can lead to the destruction of ecosystems, increases in food prices and the dislocation of the rural poor.

The world's biggest carmaker, General Motors, has, however, recently unveiled a system to create the biofuel from garbage -- which would get around the environmental objections. The initiative is being introduced in Britain.