Biofuel scepticism prompts German summit

The German government called an emergency energy summit on Tuesday to try to prevent a consumer backlash against biofuels from snowballing into a full-scale petrol shortage.

Growing scepticism about the new biofuel mix, known as E10, has resulted in consumers queuing up for standard petrol, leading to supply shortages in a market already spooked by the turmoil in the Middle East.

BP, the main producer of E10 in Germany, has decided to delay production of the fuel at its two largest German refineries, but risks penalties if it does not meet the new biofuel quota set by the government. Petrol stations have run dangerously low of standard fuels because they have switched some of their forecourt reserves to E10, which has been available in Germany since the new year.

E10 petrol contains a maximum 10% bioethanol, 5% more than standard super-plus petrol. Up to four million cars in Germany cannot run on the new biofuel; 7% of all cars on Germany’s roads. Experts blame manufacturers for a lack of information.

“The car industry has been sloppy,” said Lutz Mez, an environment expert at Berlin’s Free University. “Taxi drivers don’t know what’s going on. If they don’t get it, how will anyone else?”

No retreat on E10 roll-out
Germany’s environment minister, Norbert Rottgen, said the government would not retreat on the E10 roll-out.

Some members of the junior coalition FDP party argue that Germany should hold off E10 production. “Consumers need clarity and security first,” said an FDP MP, Patrick Doring.

According to the Green Party, Germany needs to take a closer look at its car culture. “The E10 concept has failed,” said Cem Ozdemir, the party leader. “It’s not just a communication catastrophe,” he said. “We need cars that run on less petrol, speed limits on motorways and more investment in electric cars.”

BMW, one of the country’s biggest carmakers, rejected criticism that it sent out mixed messages. “Our dealers were informed and our hotline and website had all the information,” BMW spokesperson Bernhard Ederer said. He confirmed that all BMW’s cars can run on E10.

BP also refuses to bear the brunt of the blame and said it was completely committed to E10. “It was imposed on us by the government to ensure a lower carbon future,” a BP spokesperson said.

“It’s in our interests that E10 becomes the main fuel in Germany. We are doing everything we can.”

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