• Germany's news in English

German media roundup: Berlin's botched biofuel summit

The Local · 9 Mar 2011, 14:00

Published: 09 Mar 2011 14:00 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The high-level meeting in Berlin on Tuesday, which was meant to address drivers’ concerns about the new type of gasoline, did not seem to achieve its goal. On the day after the meeting, a chorus of criticism has gone up from consumer groups and politicians slamming the government’s decision to stick with the controversial fuel which contains 10 percent ethnol.

"The policy will remain because it's the right strategy to replace oil but also from an environmental perspective," Economy Minister Rainer Brüderle told a news conference.

Motorists have shunned E10 petrol due to worries it might damage their engines, even though 90 percent of vehicles can run on it, according to fuel association MVW. Consumers have largely stuck with traditional, more expensive grades, causing those stocks to run low.

At the Tuesday summit, which brought together automakers, oil company representatives and consumer and motorists' organisations, it was decided that information about which vehicles can run on the fuel will be available at petrol stations across the country as a way to lessen insecurity among motorists.

But Gerd Billen, president of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations, called the results of the summit “disappointing” and accused the government of “contempt for consumers.”

Newspapers in The Local’s media roundup on Wednesday looked at the government’s approach to the biofuel imbroglio.

The left-leaning Süddeutsche Zeitung called the summit an overhyped event that ended up being a joke.

“Brüderle called the petrol summit amid much ballyhoo, selling it as if it were on a historical level with Helmut Kohl’s German reunification summit with Mikhail Gorbachev in the Caucasus. But the meagre results were diametrically opposed to the big lead-up. Whether consumers will eventually learn to accept the new fuel is uncertain. But it is certain that their trust in government and business has not been strengthened.”

The right-wing Berliner Morgenpost said the anger and confusion over the biofuel, and the government’s failure to really address it, will have political consequences.

“You can say a lot about the Greens, but they would have probably handled the introduction of E10 better. That’s because they still have respect for the wrath of the motorist. The Christian Democrats don’t appear to, and they will likely pay for that disregard on March 27 when voters in car-loving Baden-Württemberg go to the polls in state elections. Forcing E10 into motorists’ tanks, even if it’s good for them, is one good way for the CDU to make this election year an exciting and unpleasant one for themselves.”

The sensationalist mass-circulation Bild called the summit a “farce,” saying no one is ready to take responsibility for the debacle.

“This summit was a pathetic display for everyone concerned: for the government, which got us into the biofuel mess and completely underestimated the situation; for the oil companies, who shrug their shoulders while making a killing; and for carmakers, who haven’t clearly said which vehicles can run on the gas. The victims here are the drivers, the majority of which still reject the biofuel and are paying a high price at the pump because of it.”

The regional Cologne daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger wrote that part of the blame for the confusion lay with automakers, who don’t seem to trust the new fuel completely. But the editorial didn't let politicians off the hook.

“Our federal politicians are indeed partly to blame for this breakdown. Past experience should have told them that introducing a new fuel can be problematic, but they didn’t act accordingly. In the light of what seemed to be a wonderful technical solution (to energy supplies and global warming), the concerns of citizens were just an afterthought. But that is not how one makes environmental policy, that’s how one discredits it.”

Story continues below…

The Badische Zeitung from Freiburg pointed the finger at politicians and motorists as well.

“With the introduction of biofuels, the attempt is being made to put off the unavoidable renunciation of traditional combustion engines. And indeed, to do it through ecologically questionable means, if one considers the effect biofuel production can have on world food prices. Now it is time for consumers to step up and show if their only concern is for the well-being of their beloved vehicle, or if they’re ready to change their relationship to the car.”

The Local/kdj

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

18:22 March 9, 2011 by majura
I'd like to see a proper study into the CO2 and human impact of the increase of the percentage bio-fuel in petrol.

Growing palms and/or canola takes a lot of resources too (especially if farmers are using petroleum derived fertilisers). Also people calling in on the radio saying that they are getting less mileage - whilst not scientific (depends on the car & driving style)... is also of concern.

In plain English, where's the real proof that E10 is better than E95 (a.k.a. normal petrol)?

I'm not against doing things that reduce global warming - I'd rather cycle everywhere than take the train/car - but I'm not one for being spun by a bunch of polies that don't know left from right.
08:00 March 10, 2011 by narfmaster
Somehow this debate is culturally a very German thing. Let me explain what I mean. A German friend said to me that he was very confused about which gas he should use. He was afraid it wouldn't work in his car. I asked him how old his car was. "5 years" he said. I told him not to worry about it. Yet, he was still not sure which fuel to use, and obviously frustrated. Then he said, "But which is more efficient?". I told him that there is less energy / gallon in the ethanol blend, so a tank won't take him as far. To which he replied "Ah ha! So I shouldn't use the new fuel." I replied, "Well, maybe. The ethanol blend may cause less knocking in the engine and burns cleaner, so in that way it might be better for it. And even if he can't go as far on a tank with the new fuel, it's only a 5% blend, so the difference is negligible." Seeing as my explanation wasn't good enough, I told him to use whatever was cheaper and that seemed to appease him.

The point is, an American would just say, "Screw it, who cares?" while the German is looking for a reason to not change or looking for a really good reason to change. In this case, he couldn't accept that the choice was an arbitrary one, even though, in reality, that's pretty much what it is, at least as regards the family automobile.

I agree with majur above that we should worry more about why this is being done and more about how it affects the economy. Creating ethanol the way we do now is not an efficient way to get energy. At best, it is possible to get out 3 times the energy put in when creating ethanol. A lot of oil is burned in tractors tilling the fields or harvesting the grain. Oil is used to create the fertilizers and pesticides. And it takes up land that could be used for food production, thus raising food prices. The way it is done now doesn't seem a good idea.

Then again, if they have some plan to change Poland, an EU country with cheap labor and lots of good farmland, into the next Saudi Arabia with high tech equipment and genetically modified yeast that make alcohol more efficiently, then that could be a different story, especially if they could show the numbers all work on paper. They haven't done that and Instead it looks like an arbitrary decision. A very small decision that in other countries might be overlooked, but here causes massive waves. It is as if the politicians don't know their own people.
15:32 March 11, 2011 by larrykuehn
I meticulously track my mileage (MPG) on my daily commute (very consistent driving conditions and practices). I can say for certain that with the switch from E5 to E10 in the US my fuel efficiency dropped 10% in three different cars of different ages (2003, 2005, 2008). In addition with the switch, the price doesn't go down at all, so for my pocketbook, the switch to E10 has been a failure, I wish we still at least still had E5! Otherwise no problems with the car's mechanial operation.
11:39 March 17, 2011 by Carnot
I work in the petrochemical industry that produces gasoline components.

I am not against bifuels in principle but the so called benefits do not stack up. Evironmentally, turning photons into fuel is not a sustainable process. Even producing food is questionable as being sustainable, but using land for food and fuel only further enhances soil degradation.Is E10 a good product. Not in my opinion. It has many deficiencies apart from the lower energy content. Firstly it corrodes steel. Secondly many seal materials are affected and it also adsorbs moisture. when it does the fuel will separate with a low of octane. We pay a high proice for this nonsense. Ethanol blending adds both to the cost of production and the cost of distribution. Put this product in your gardenn machine and leave it over winter at your peril.
Today's headlines
These are Germany's top ten universities
The new library of Freiburg University. Photo: Jörgens.mi / Wikimedia Commons

These are the best universities in all of Germany - at least according to one ranking.

Introducing Swabians - 'the Scots of Germany'
Photo: DPA

These Southern Germans have quite a reputation in the rest of the country.

Woman sues dentist over job rejection for headscarf
Photo: DPA

A dentist in Stuttgart is being taken to court by a woman whom he rejected for a job as his assistant on the basis that she wears a Muslim headscarf.

Isis suspect charged with scouting Berlin attack sites
Photo: DPA

German federal prosecutors said Thursday they had brought charges against a 19-year-old Syrian man accused of having scouted targets in Berlin for a potential attack by the Isis terror group.

Berlin Holocaust memorial could not be built now: creator
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin. Photo: DPA.

The architect of the Berlin Holocaust memorial has said that, if he tried to build the monument again today, it would not be possible due to rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Germany and the United States.

'Liberal' Germany stopping Europe's 'slide into barbarism'
Ian Kershaw. Photo: DPA

Europe is not slipping into the same dark tunnel of hate and nationalism that it did in the 1930s - mainly thanks to Germany - one of the continent's leading historians has said.

Eurowings strike to hit 40,000 passengers
Travelers impacted by the strike on Thursday wait at Cologne Bonn airport. Photo: DPA.

The day-long strike by a Eurowings cabin crew union is expected to impact some 40,000 passengers on Thursday as hundreds of flights have been cancelled.

Deutsche Bank reports surprise quarter billion profit
Photo: DPA

Troubled German lender Deutsche Bank reported Thursday a surprise €256-million profit in the third quarter, compared with a loss of more than six billion in the same period last year.

US 'warned Merkel' against Chinese takeover of tech firm
Aixtron HQ. Photo: DPA

The German government withdrew its approval for a Chinese firm to purchase Aixtron, which makes semiconductor equipment, after the US secret services raised security concerns, a German media report said Wednesday.

Long-vanished German car brand joins electric race
Photo: DPA

Cars bearing the stamp of once-defunct manufacturer Borgward will once again roll off an assembly line in north Germany from 2018, the firm said Wednesday.

10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd