German flower power emerges as an alternative to tanking up with oil
By Andrew McCathie Jun 28, 2006, 4:00 GMT
Berlin - Germany has a well-deserved reputation as an eco-friendly nation. It also has a great love for cars and a passion to drive with no speed limits on much of the country's vast network of Autobahn highways.
So how can it bridge the gap between promoting an environmentally conscious world and a desire to hit the gas pedal?
The answer may be that the car of the future will be powered by something not all that different from salad oil or fat left over from the deep-frying of food.
And it might not be that far away: About 12 per cent of Germany's more than 15,000 petrol stations already give motorists the chance to tank up with so-called biodiesel before hurtling down the Autobahn.
Germany's push to develop new fuel-efficient vehicles represents the latest stage in the nation's green revolution which began almost 30 years ago, when it began introducing a comprehensive recycling system.
The nation currently leads the way in promoting alternative energy with an array of subsidies and government support aimed at underpinning Germany's burgeoning alternative energy sector and in particular helping to develop its wind and solar power industries.
But with oil prices soaring, Germany is now also emerging at the forefront in developing the technology for adapting vehicles to renewable fuels.
Last year the nation became the world leader in the production of biodiesel, pumping out almost 3,000 million litres of the fuel.
Biodiesel is derived from organic sources and contains no petroleum. In Germany the main source is rapeseed which grows across the country.
'Coordinated action to expand biofuel markets and advance new technologies could relieve pressure on oil prices while strengthening agricultural economies and reducing climate-altering emissions,' said Worldwatch Institute President Christopher Flavin, releasing a report this month on biofuels.
Germany's plans to broaden the use of biodiesel fuels also form part a wider, ambitious European Union goal that 5.75 per cent of the bloc's transport sector fuel needs should come from biofuels by 2010.
Germany and France have both said they aim to reach the EU target before the 2010 deadline. Biofuel currently accounts for about four per cent of Germany's total diesel sales.
But despite the ambitious plans in Berlin and Paris, there are doubts whether the 25-nation EU will be able to reach its 2010 target without new measures to encourage the use of biofuels after the Union missed its 2 per cent target for 2005.
As a result, Brussels plans to rework its biofuels initiative by the end of the year, and observers speculate that this could involve setting mandatory targets instead of the existing indicative goals.
This could mean that even more of Germany's 400,000 farmers might soon find themselves heading across their farmlands on tractors powered by biodiesel.
Farmers in both Germany and neighbouring Netherlands have already begun to use biodiesel tractors with transport companies believing that adapting their fleets to organic fuels will produce long-term savings.
Most economists do not see any immediate end to the pressures which keep oil prices surging higher.
Dubbed 'flower power', biodiesel fuels in Germany are at present exempt from the nation's fuel tax. In addition, filling up on green fuel can cost motorists up to 15 euro cents less a litre than relying on regular diesel.
But apart from the environmental benefits of biofuels, such as reduced air pollution, a greater use by industry is considered key to promoting organic fuels as a serious alternative to carbon-based fuels.
The development of a global market in biofuels could help to ensure the commercial viability of biodiesel.
In the meantime, some consumers also still need some convincing when it comes to filling up with biodiesel.
This is despite the fact that Germany's powerful car industry agreed more than two years ago that biofuel could make up up to five per cent of regular diesel without impacting on a car's performance.
Besides worries about the impact that green fuels might have on their vehicles, car owners also first have to obtain a special clearance from the auto maker to use biodiesel.
Other concerns still prevalent refer to fertilisers and pesticides that might have been used to grow the energy crops, and even the risks of deforestation in certain areas.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur