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Germany recently began introducing gasoline containing a higher percentage of biofuels. But consumers have so far been skittish, leading to production chaos and shortages of traditional gasoline. Some politicians have called for laws mandating that biofuels be scrapped altogether.

It began as a plan to reduce the amount of CO2 being pumped into European skies. But a European Union directive requiring gas stations to sell fuel with 10 percent ethanol content has hit a snag in Germany, where consumers are avoiding the new petrol — known as E10 — because it is harmful to some cars. Suppliers have had to slow down deliveries of the fuel, but extra quantities of E10 on hand have left less room for and shortages of traditional fuel in a number of stations given the extra demand.

Even worse, because the law regulating the introduction of E10 to the German market foresees industry penalties should targets not be met, the average tank of standard gas may soon cost more. The penalty, according to the Association of the German Petroleum Industry (MWV), could be as high as €456 million ($631.5 million) per year. Those penalties will likely be passed on to consumers, to the tune of two cents per liter.

The MWV itself has been complicit in the confusion surrounding the introduction of E10. Initially on Thursday, MWV head Klaus Picard told the German news agency DPA that deliveries of E10 would be stopped entirely, just weeks after they had begun.

“Otherwise,” he was quoted as saying, “the system will collapse.” The MVW quickly back-pedalled, saying that deliveries merely had to be “adapted to match consumption,” but not before several German politicians had jumped into the fray….

The controversy looks set to trigger yet another debate over the feasibility of using biofuels on a large scale. Many environmentalists and politicians have long harbored doubts as to whether biofuels actually do result in a reduction of the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.

Not only is significant energy used in the production of the fuel, but it isn’t uncommon for forestland — a natural absorber of CO2 — to be clear-cut for the planting of biofuels crops. Critics have also questioned the use of farmland for automobile fuel in an age of skyrocketing food prices.

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