Biofuel: Will E10 fail in Germany?

By Christian Stampfer on 24 March 2011
  • Share

On the first of the year, Germany introduced Super E10 biofuel, which is gasoline that is 10% ethanol. Even before the first tank was filled, the matter was the subject of great debate.  The new fuel uses twice as much ethanol as the old Super E5 biofuel and the wheat, corn, and sugar cane used for ethanol production could also be used for food.  The other problem is lower fuel economy and reduced fuel output.

In the beginning of December; TDD Editorial Director Greg Spira reported that ethanol costs more to produce and, since most ethanol is produced from corn and the electricity needed to produce it comes mostly from coal-fired plants, there has been considerable debate as to exactly how sustainable today’s ethanol product actually is.”

Car makers are taking a cautious approach.  Thomas Brüner, head of mechanical engineering at BMW, stated said that it is also possible that the driver will have to shorten the oil change intervals when using E10.”  The long-term effects of using E10 fuel on the engine are not completely clear. Mercedes-Benz and BMW are both starting to test cars with the new fuel.

Today in Germany, four out of five drivers chose the much more expensive Super Plus than the Super E10 at the pump. This has led to problems at the refineries where the new fuel is produced. The major petrol companies in Germany (namely OMV, BP Group, and Exxon Mobile) are pushing Super E10 and limiting the supply of Super Plus. As a result, Super Plus is not available in a sufficient quantity to cover demand.

The ADAC (the German automobile club) claims that nearly 93% of all cars in Germany can use the new fuel without any risk. The rest will have to use Super Plus or buy a new car (which is for most not an option). German car manufacturers, including VW, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW, have stated that nearly all of their cars can use E10.

Car makers have released compatibility lists that allow drivers in Germany to check if a specific car can run on E10. But what hasn’t been discussed is what will happen if the engine is damaged from the new fuel?  None of the parties promoting E10, including the government, the car makers, the petrol industry, and the ADAC will take any responsibility for its use, leaving the driver on his own.

The bottom line is that the introduction of the Super E10 isn’t good for anyone.  Everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else and the German car driver is irritated and upset.  Since the jury is still out as to whether using ethanol is the right way to protect the environment, it is clear that there is no easy out and, at the end, no one will be happy.