Drivers in the EU will soon be filling their tanks with a mixture of normal gasoline and more environmentally friendly biofuels. But is this a giant leap or merely a baby step towards a greener future?
New European Union guidelines that come into effect this year are aimed at having all fuels become a mixture of traditional non-renewable fuel sources and renewable, biological components by the end of 2005. Previously, consumers who wanted to go green at the gas station only had the option of buying “bio-diesel,” a rapeseed oil-based fuel that ended up being a marginalized niche product.
The guidelines are part of a package of measures to promote the use of renewable energies and reduce the EU’s dependence on oil imports. By 2005, the minimum share of biofuels should be 2 percent, though this should rise to as much as 5.7 percent by the year 2010.
Effect on gas prices
Many experts have said that Germans can expect gas prices to fall, since Germany has adopted a tax exemption policy for biofuel producers. But according to Rainer Winzenried of Shell, consumers shouldn’t set their hopes too high. “It’s not just the fuel itself that costs money,” he told German news weekly Spiegel. “At present, it’s not clear if extra costs might offset the tax break.” According to oil companies, the new blended biofuels have to be stored separately, and they have to have the proper facilities to mix the new fuel — both things they say can drive prices up.
Some experts are also skeptical about whether the EU has the production capacity to meet its goals. When the EU’s biofuel directive was released in 2001, it led to a large increase in the production of substances such as plant oils, cereals and other crops, and organic waste materials — all which can be used in the production of biofuels. Germany is the largest single biofuel producer, accounting for about 30 percent of all EU production.
According to Winzenried, German fuel sales reach about 53 million tons. And while Germany already produces large quantities of rapeseed oil for mixing into diesel fuel, some oil companies say there aren’t sufficient quantities of ethanol, a grain product that could be added to benzine.
The German automobile club ADAC is also warning that the biofuel label doesn’t mean that such fuels are totally environmentally-friendly. “While biofuels certainly have advantages over conventional fuels in terms of the most common dangerous emissions, the emissions of the nitrogen oxides associated with biofuels are somewhat higher,” said ADAC spokesman Peter Hemschik.
Fuel of the future
While problems remain, proponents of renewable energies say the EU directive is necessary to start the ball rolling towards a cleaner, emission-free future.
“One of the hurdles is distribution — making the fuel or fuel blends as widely available as possible. Another hurdle is producing sufficient quantities to support widespread distribution,” Todd Allmendinger, managing director of Emerging Energy Research, told DW-WORLD. “The EU directive will help push both forward. It also raises awareness, and provides incentives for the auto industry, so overall, it could make higher targets much easier to reach in a shorter time frame,” he said.
Europeans can expect to start pumping the new biofuel mixtures in the first half of this year.
Source: Deutsche Welle vom 2004-01-09.