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Carmakers rethink sustainability approach amid E10 fuel fiasco

The Local · 19 May 2011, 07:06

Published: 19 May 2011 07:06 GMT+02:00

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E10 was supposed to be a step towards Germany’s clean-energy future.

Spurred by governmental quotas for biofuel, the country’s petroleum industry introduced a new, ostensibly environmentally-friendly petrol with 10 percent ethanol this year.

But somehow, consumer preference was left out of the equation, sparking an unexpected public backlash by car-loving Germans.

“I'm not sure my car can handle it,” said Fabian Lauterbach, a frequent driver in Cologne who is sceptical of the new fuel. “And when I hear that CO2 emissions are only slightly reduced, it makes me wonder what this is all about.”

Lauterbach is not alone in distrusting E10's environmental usefulness and vehicle compatibility. A report by the petroleum industry association MWV reveals that only one in five German drivers fuelled up on E10 last month.

Following a belated information campaign by government and industry leaders, two thirds of motorists currently know whether E10 is safe for their cars, according to the report. But nearly half of these drivers still refuse to buy the controversial fuel.

The top reason for rejecting the new gasoline is that it actually reduces fuel efficiency. “Cars running on E10 consume marginally more fuel while producing slightly fewer greenhouse-gas emissions,” said Bernhard Tschenscher, an engineering expert at Germany's automotive club ADAC.

ADAC tests show that E10 causes an average 1.5 percent bump in fuel consumption compared to Super E5, which contains roughly half the amount of ethanol. At the same time, CO2 emissions are reduced by an average of 0.9 percent. Actual rates vary depending on the weather, driving styles and other factors.

A holistic view

At the bottom line, E10 provides a marginal benefit to the environment by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. However, increased use of biofuel crops would also reduce overall greenhouse-gas levels because the plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere – assuming they didn’t simply replace food crops.

In that sense, there is more to the ecological footprint of a vehicle than its on-road emission of carbon dioxide, mono-nitrogen oxides and other greenhouse gases. This holistic approach to sustainability is beginning to take hold in the German auto industry.

As Germany's largest automaker and the world's number two after Toyota, Volkswagen provides so-called “life cycle assessments” for select vehicles in an attempt to highlight their overall environmental impact.

“The life cycle assessment considers not only the driving time of a vehicle, but rather its entire life cycle from production through utilisation to disposal,” said Volkswagen technology spokesman Peter Weisheit. These assessments, called LCA for short, are certified by the German product safety organisation TÜV Nord.

Germany's other leading car makers have adopted a similar approach.

“In principal, sustainability is relevant at every stage of the supply chain,” said Bernhard Ederer, spokesperson for BMW Automotives. “From the idea for a vehicle to its entry into the recycling circuit, it is important to make sparing use of our resources.”

BMW's claim to eco-friendly manufacturing is backed by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index DJSI, which measures the overall ecological and ethical profile of major quoted firms. In 2010, the DJSI listed BMW as leader of the “automobiles & parts” sector for the sixth time in a row.

The auto maker plans to introduce its first fully electric vehicle in 2013 under the name “BMW i3.” That same year, Volkswagen will begin series production of its “Up! blue-e-motion” compact car, followed by a fully electric engine for its popular Golf model.

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“We are convinced that such vehicles only have a chance on the market if their total cost of ownership is competitive,” said BMW's Ederer, referring to the cost of purchasing, driving and maintaining a vehicle from car lot to junk yard.

Refineries roll back E10 production

Until then, eco-friendly consumers of German cars will have to rely on fuel efficiency technologies, hybrid vehicles – and E10. This comes at a price: German petroleum producers under the MWV umbrella estimate that it costs an extra €0.10 to €0.20 to produce one litre of E10 versus E5, depending on the price of crude oil.

With oil currently hovering above $100 a barrel, the price difference may be negligible. Additionally, the German government has introduced a tax scheme to reduce the price of E10 at the pump by compensating for the higher fuel consumption rates.

But German petroleum refineries are already scaling back on E10 production, choosing instead to meet their quotas through other means – increased sales of bio-diesel, for example. BP, Royal Dutch Shell and other major refineries have cut back or halted the roll-out of E10, according to the German petrol retailers' association BTG.

In Cologne, one of Fabian Lauterbach's friends was recently willing to give E10 a try. But the experiment was thwarted by supply shortages at his local petrol station. “By the time I got there, the E10 pump had already been changed back to normal super,” he said.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

09:06 May 19, 2011 by John Whitehurst
"ADAC tests show that E10 causes an average 1.5 percent bump in fuel consumption compared to Super E5, which contains roughly half the amount of ethanol. At the same time, CO2 emissions are reduced by an average of 0.9 percent. Actual rates vary depending on the weather, driving styles and other factors."

So doing a little math where is the CO2 cut if one increases consumption? Grain prices are up hundres of percentage points because of this Green craz of Ethonol ( Not just Germany)as a get by thing; in reality it increases consumption and raises the basic food staples world wide and they wonder why it is not so widley accepted. People will hunger because of this and food prices will continue to climb because of speculation.

So it cost a few cent less, but where is the gain to consumer, and with the use of more there is no significat cut in Green house emissions. And consumer donot be fooled the extra fuel you need will end up costing you more because of consumption ratios. Ask Berlin to do some math on this and explain it.


11:54 May 19, 2011 by krautrock
And electric cars funded by tax payers' money will be thw next disaster.
11:55 May 19, 2011 by nolibs
I love Germany more everyday, and things like this bring a smile to my face. It is good to see the German consumer giving the bird to the green idiots that are causing so many problems for everyone.

Personally, I will not buy E10 and will drive to find another station that has normal benzine available. I noticed that E10 was more expensive when first introduced, but now is 5 cents cheaper per litre.

Even if your car can use this E10 "fuel", it is still tougher on the internal car parts, absorbs water and decreases your fuel mileage.
14:33 May 19, 2011 by cobalisk
Name calling does not advance an argument.

E10 is an old form of GHG reduction and I am happy to see car makers looking beyond their relationship to oil.

Most people want to drive cars that use less fuel and pollute less according to polls. Once those cars are available, the sales will speak for themselves.
20:57 May 19, 2011 by rfwilson
It seems that no one takes the manufacture of ethanol into consideration. Fermentation of the corn feedstock produces massive quantities of CO2, and the distillation process which uses heat from natural gas, or (especially as in the US) coal, generates even more.

In fact, according to Scientific American, the use of ethanol-blended gasoline can create MORE CO2 than the use of pure gasoline, when the production process is taken into account.

As Paul Simon wrote in one of his songs, "Everybody's got the runs for glory; nobody stops to scrutinize the plan".
15:16 May 20, 2011 by abakst
The point about ethanol production is a good one. We can only expect a significant benefit to the environment if the entire process is sustainable from cradle to grave (so to speak).

For starters that means using near-100% renewable energy for fuel production, but to do that on a mass scale requires a transformation of the energy economy that isn't expected before 2020.

It has to be said that the German government has a strict set of rules for the production of ethanol sold here. The law was designed to shield food crops, natural forests & co. from ethanol farming, and to prevent the importation of non-"Bio" ethanol from other countries. Whether there are loopholes, I can't say.

By the way, it's interesting to note that E10 is widespread and mostly uncontroversial in the United States. The EPA has capped fuel blends at 15 percent ethanol but there's no minimum requirement.

And I think that's the key here: a majority of drivers in Germany simply feel they don't want to be told by some committee what petrol to use. The MWV study confirms the sentiment, and I hope Berlin takes away some lessons about how to approach these issues.
20:04 May 20, 2011 by bzh
You Germans are lukcy - in the USA no matter what grade benzin (gasoline) you buy, it contains 10% Ethanol. We have no choice. Is it democracy?
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