Rising Crop Prices Fuel Discussion about E10 and Bio Energy

Rising crop prices have (re)kindled the discussion on the benefits of E10 and energy derived from biomass, often corn.

According to the German Biogas Association, the number of biogas power plants has risen from 139 in 1992 to 7,215 in 2011. For 2012 the association forecasts 7,521 plants and for 2013 7,895 plants. The land used for the cultivation of corn have also continuously increased, although the expansion seems to has somewhat abated in 2012, according to preliminary figures.

Lately the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina questioned the role of bio-energy in the energy mix, argueing it required more surface area, often generated higher greenhouse gas emissions and was more harmful to the environment than other renewable sources such as photovoltaic, solar thermal energy and wind energy.

Now the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel (FDP) questioned the use of the biofuel E10 in view of rising food problems in the developing countries. This has restarted the discussion about E10 that was introduced in early 2011. At the time the discussion mostly revolved around the acceptance of the new fuel as people feared it might damage their engine, as precise information by the automobile industry had not been widespread. Yet environmental concerns were also raised.

Mr Niebel’s fellowing party member, the party secretary-general, Patrick Döring, also warned of the massive cultivation of plants for bio energy use, in particular corn, and warned against “Vermaisung” (“cornification”). The chairwoman of the parliamentary group of Alliance 90’/The Greens, Renate Künast demanded to abolish the incentives for the cultivation of corn, saying food had the first priority, the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (F.A.S) quoted her as saying. Not surprisingly, bio energy associations rejected the criticism and demands.

Since Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier told the media biomass was a very versatile and reliable energy source, which would play an important role for the future energy supply of Germany, a quick response by the government does not seem likely at this point. Changing the feed-in tariff for renewable energy originating from biomass pursuant to the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) would require (yet) another amendment of the law.

The EEG amendment entering into force at the beginning of 2012 already addressed the matter to a certain extent. It aimed to tap the potential of biogenic waste while avoiding a competition with the food and feed crops production. Hence the use of corn and crops for the production of biogas was limited (Section 27 para. 5 no. 1 EEG). In contrast, small biogas power plants using liquid manure receive higher feed-in tariffs (Section 27b EEG). In view of Mr Altmaier’s response regarding more solar feed-in tariff cuts, it seems more likely that his ministry will enter into the discussion on another amendment of the EEG this autumn.

Source: Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung

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