By on February 17, 2010

Europe, and especially Germany, reports declining diesel dependency. From a nearly 50 percent share a few years ago, the share of diesel driven cars in Germany dropped to 31 percent in 2009.  Two reasons: The favorable taxation of the oil had been scrapped. And speaking of scrapped, the “Abwrackprämie, or cash for clunkers, had favored a trend towards low displacement gasoline burners. (In January, the diesel share climbed back to 40 percent in Deutschland.) Badly mauled were the manufacturers of bio (a.k.a. “veggie”) diesel.

Attracted by governmental largesse (the former red-green government promised to totally strike the tax on veggie diesel,) many companies started to produce the supposedly green oil. Now, reports Das Autohaus, [sub] around half of the 50 makers of biodiesel in Germany have gone bankrupt, or stopped the production of biodiesel.

Again, the tax man did it: Contrary to former promises, the tax for pure veggie diesel was raised to 18 cents per liter in 2009. In 2013, the allegedly environmentally friendly fuel will be taxed similarly to fossil fuel: Regular diesel carries a tax of 47 Euro cents per liter in Germany, veggie diesel will cost 45 Euro cents in contributions to the government. No wonder the makers of green fuel go into the reds.

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21 Comments on “Germany’s Vanishing Veggie Diesel...”

  • avatar

    IIRC (this is a topic I was only casually tracking so perhaps I have only part of the story), the Bio-Diesel movement was pushed heavily by the Dutch more than 5 years ago with much of Western Europe jumping on the “subsidized sustainability bandwagon” … until about 2 years ago the Dutch grew nervous that demand for this fuel was beginning to have unintended consequences (namely deforestation in Indonesia in order to plant plants, I think Palm Kernel trees, which provided biodiesel compounds) … after this realization, the Dutch dropped their (low or no tax) subsidy position … now it seems that the other countries are following suit.

    People were feeling good about this fuel (thinking it came from recycled frying oil due to french-fry smell exhaust gas, favourable tax subsidies, greenhype) until they didn’t (when they learned they were contributing to deforestation of the tropical rainforests – same as with all that trans-fat artery-clogging hydrogenated crap palm kernel oil food processors are using.)

    It would be interesting to hear a more in-depth (and fact-checked) treatement of the biodiesel topic than the sketch I provided above.

    What I would like to know is: 1. are the countries following suit because they recognize that biodiesel is not the eco-friendly sustainable fuel source as originally understood, and thus govt’s need to drop (tax-free) subsidies as a result? or 2) is it sustainable but due to being cash-strapped the countries are searching for other forms of revenue?

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, fact checking, and long-term thinking are what is required when considering this topic.

      What bothers me most about the nay saying surrounding alternative fuels is the lack of offered positive suggestions for extending the use of petroleum. It is like the “drill baby, drill” mantra we heard in 2008. So we suck up all of our local resources now, leaving our future even more dependent on foreign oil? How does that make sense strategically?

      I would think that we should encourage the development of alternative fuel sources as a guarantee a better future, not to mention keeping whatever petroleum we have left in the ground for the time when it will be worth $10,000 a barrel. Let the middle-east sell their off cheap first.

      But no, we think only in terms of our wallets TODAY.

  • avatar

    Countries (aka. politicians) don’t need facts, they just need favorable public perception. If they subsidize (aka. less taxation) bio-fuels, it is because of green-washing. However, bio-diesel may be environmentally friendly, but long term/large scale usage can not be sustainable. The amount of crop you can get from a patch of land is limited and you need arable land for growing “food”. This is not compromise humans can make. I don’t know about other people, but I need food more than fuel.

    I have to say, I would also want a non-partisan scientific research done on on this topic. Every research I see has an agenda and generally data doesn’t back-up results.

  • avatar

    This shouldn’t really be a surprise. Diesel’s predominance in certain parts of Europe was largely due to the tax advantage it enjoyed. In countries like Switzerland, where the tax advantage wasn’t prevalent, gas has always claimed the advantage.

    Curiously, the countries whose tax regime benefited diesel power were also the countries that hosted manufacturers who depended on diesel powerplants as a differentiators between their products and those of foreign competitors. Now that Toyota, Hyundai and Honda all make or use diesels that are on par, why keep the subsidy?

    Biodiesel is pretty much just a victim of diesel’s general decline, though it’s also suffering for manufacturer nervousness: no one wants to certify it and face a rash of warranty claims for gummed rails and injectors.

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      Yeah, that’s pretty much how I see it.

      The greenie aspects of biodiesel are an interesting sideshow, but the cleaner fuel and accompanying emissions control has put diesel in a fairly substantial financial hole over here, and I’m assuming the Euros are also climbing that hill.

      Commercial Truck had 5-year cost of diesel ownership being overtaken by gasoline years ago, and were planning for this years ago. The joke amongst the buyers at the time was that they should rush out and buy the previous diesels before January 1st a few years ago. The updated cost premium for PowerStroke was originally as much as $4,500 per copy, although I’m sure they trimmed that back, and now Ford is gonna make their own version.

      Little small turbo diesels are a nice little addition to the toolkit, but not a panacea, I suspect.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr Strangelove

      Diesel has been tax-favored in Germany since like the second crusade. Back in the sixties only Mercedes would actually put Diesel engines in cars, however, and these cars were mostly bought by farmers, who got their Diesel fully tax-exempt for running their farm tools. That incentive was enough for them to put up with a “power” of 55 hp in the Mercedes 200D.

      The picture changed when Volkswagen introduced Diesel engines in their more affordable cars. The price difference to gasoline engines was modest, and the difference in fuel economy compelling. That made other European manufacturers follow suit.

      So historically the lower taxation predates the actual mass adoption of Diesel cars and therefore it is not a protectionist ploy.

    • 0 avatar

      @ psarhjinian: Yes and no. I know at least two countries which used to subsidy diesel and had no brand to protect: Belgium (which has lost its indigenous brands after WW2 but is/was an assembling country) and Luxemburg)

      @ Dr Strangelove: MB has been making diesel powered cars since the thirties and in the sixties you could already find “cheap” diesel cars like the Peugeot 404 (and the 403 was produced in a diesel version since 1959). And to farmers you should add taximen who were and are still heavy diesel users.

  • avatar

    There is no such thing as an environmentally friendly fuel. All fuels have environmental consequences, unintended or otherwise, even electricity (coal burning power plants, salmon killing dams, etc.) There are however degrees of “cleanness” that must be recognized. BioDiesel is cleaner than petroleum-based fuels. The key is the source used for the feedstock.

    Algae is at the top of the “clean” heap, as it can produce far more per unit of land and water (by an exponential amount) than other sources. Waste veggie oil is likely #2 as it is essentially recycled garbage, as it has already been used in the food cycle. Straight veggie oils are next and vary by source, with Canola (Rapeseed) leading the pack. SVO is favored by volume producers as it is easiest to process. Palm oil of course is the red-headed stepchild with the reputation of evil, if only for the practices of the farmers who grow it.

    Pulling crude oil out of the ground and burning it up a billion barrels a day though, is probably the least environmentally friendly thing human beings have ever done.

    Vegetable-based fuels can not, and never will replace petroleum. Used wisely however they can extend the useful life of petroleum’s utility to mankind by an appreciable percentage. Vegetable-based Diesel fuels are better for the environment, since they often have a far better emissions profile (again, depending upon feedstock and engine tuning) than petro-Diesel.

    Finally, before somebody brings it up (as they always do) BioDiesel has nothing to do with ethanol, and/or corn. A Diesel engine running on straight BioDiesel or a BD-Petro blend does not suffer any loss in fuel economy like a gasoline-engine car does with Ethanol-Gasoline mixes. Corn is rarely, if ever used in the making of Diesels as it’s oil has very little power compared to other vegetable feedstocks.

    • 0 avatar

      A study from LTH show that biogas has a net reduction of greenhouse emissions of 105%, so there are actually fuels that are enviromentally friendly.

      Report with english summary

  • avatar

    Biodiesels to play “heck” with fuel and emissions systems however…especially those from reclaimed cooking oils.

    • 0 avatar

      That really depends upon the age of the fuel system (BioDiesel attacks natural rubbers, causing them to swell and eventually fail.) Any Diesel built since the early 90s has Nitrile rubber components so should have no issues with vegetable-based fuels.

      Traditional exhaust mechanisms have no issue with BD, but newer small Diesels (read VW/Audi TDIs under 2.5 liters) with the particulate filters that rely upon combustion for their cyclical cleaning do get gummed up by biodiesel due to it’s inherent higher combustion temperatures. VW’s new “Clean Diesels” can not be run on any mixture higher than B5 (5% BioDiesel) because of this issue. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the feedstock that makes the BD. Doesn’t matter if it is from WVO or pure Canola oil, B20/B50/B90/B100 WILL clog up a new DBF-equipped car. Those that use Urea for NOX scrubbing do not have this issue.

  • avatar

    What a relief to know that my government isn’t the only one that shoots itself in the foot.

  • avatar

    I’m not shedding any tears. Every diesel puts out a lot of particulate pollution — regardless of what the Euro V/VI/VII/VIII standards may say. The soot you see in any European city is proof of that.

    But maybe somebody could explain this: From what I understand, the particulate pollution is b/c in a diesel you are controlling the amount of fuel being burned, rather than the air. But isn’t that the same as direct injection? Does that also create the same hazards?

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      As I recall, the US dropped the diesel sulfur content from 500 ppm to 15ppm a few years ago, and mandated the emissions control to deal with even that lesser mass. I think it’s been that sulfur content that gives you the particulate soot you spotted in Europe. They lived with it for decades post-War, and we would have as well, if we’d been bombed out and forced to import the dirty Saudi crude. We had ample amounts of the legendary West Texas light sweet crude, perfect for all the gasoline reformulation voodoo, and our powertrain development proceeded accordingly. We get some distillates, home heating oil, jet fuel, etc from the ME, but in the main, gasoline was our schtick, likely a logical evolution for us.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      snabster, the soot in European cities is from having very many pre-emission-regulation vehicles (diesel or otherwise, car or truck) on the roads. And it’s wrong to simply dismiss the Euro 5 standard as you have done. It is not unusual for a Euro 5 DPF-equipped diesel vehicle to have less particulates in the exhaust than in the air that went into the engine. The exhaust pipes of DPF-equipped diesels remain clean inside. No carbon build-up, because there is no soot. Can’t say that of most gasoline engine vehicles!

      Particulate emissions are something of an issue with direct-injection gasoline engines also. There is no free lunch.

    • 0 avatar

      Inherently diesels have produced more particulate matter (PM) (by mass) than gasoline and this has lead to visible black smoke. However Gasoline also produces PM just the particles are of much smaller mass. There has been much debate over the past 10 years as to which is worse. The theory goes that the smaller particles can get further into the lungs the than larger particles. I’m no medical doctor so I’ll leave that debate for someone else, but to say that Europe is moving towards a particulate count rather than a particulate mass in euro 6

      As for your comment “Every diesel puts out a lot of particulate pollution — regardless of what the Euro V/VI/VII/VIII standards may say”

      Well all US diesels and an increasing number European diesel vehicles are fitted with diesel particulate traps which are typically >99% efficient – so no every diesel doesn’t put out a lot of particulate

      As for you question about why diesels generate PM. This is simple – contra to popular belief, diesel PM is created because there is insufficient oxygen to complete the burning of the fuel. Although globally within the cylinder the AFR is lean locally at the points of combustion the air is rich Lambda <1, this creates huge amounts of PM, most of which oxidized later in the cycle. However some does not get oxidized normally due to the flame front being quenched by the piston or cylinder wall.

      Current production direct injection gasoline engines can also suffer from similar effects except the combustion is still started with a spark plug, rather than by compression so it all depends on the localized AFR around the tip of the plug – I'm not an expert on gasoline engines so I'll stop there.

    • 0 avatar

      thanks all for the comments. Yes, I was being snarky about euro V/VI/VII/VIII. And the answers about direct injection are helpful. Thanks.

  • avatar

    Bio-fuels and sustainability –

    It does come down to using food crops as fuel. Why does ethonal and sugarcaine work in Brazil? It grows like a weed without irrigation, fertilizer and pest/herbacides and produces 7 units of energy for every (1) input to process.

    Corn on the other hand requires all of the above (plus massive human intervention to sustain (it is a man made crop after all) and produces 2 units for 1 input.

    If you really wanted it to work in US, it’s hemp (especially genetically/selectively bred). Grows like a weed, requires no irrigation, fertilizer, etc. (doesn’t compete with food crops)and produces ethonal at 5/1, bio-diesel at 3/1 (in comparison to soy beans) and 5/1 as much wood pulp/lb in comparison to wood. (now can you think of three industries/lobbying groups that would do whatever to keep that from happening?)

    Best bet really is CNG, along with LPG and Diesel (looks like water, has almost no smell and none of the other things in deisel that lead to particulate matter (sulfur, etc, allowing removal of alot of the complex systems that currently make D engines so much more expensive) processed from LNG refining (converting of LNG to CNG for use also produces LPG and can be furthur processed into Deisel as well other compounds used in organic chem. compounds, plastics. But once what lobbying groups wouldn’t want to see this happening?

    I find it very frustrating that what should have been a good plan in the US, was really nothing more than the politicals just transferring (borrowed) wealth to powerful interest group(farmers), subsidized by the food $ that we all need to survive. All while creating a non-sustainable industry that just serves as another transfer of wealth to wall street/main street. Trickle down economics at it’s best (accomplished nothing, except making the rich richer and all other classes poorer)

    alot of gramm. errors sorry.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    The same thing is happening in the US. The Federal Biodiesel subsidy of $1/gal expired at the end of 2009. The industry is in tatters, running at 15% of capacity. We should have covered this more, but it slipped by:

  • avatar

    Particulate emissions aren’t directly related to Sulfur in fuels. I’ll agree with colin42; PM is due to incomplete combustion of the hydrocarbon fuel.

    Diesel’s main/characteristic hydrocarbon is a long linear carbon chain. During combustion each carbon bond must be broken and all hydrogens broken off to completely oxidize the fuel. Invariably due to localized oxygen deprivation or the cooling colin42 mentioned some of those bonds will be left unbroken. The longer the remaining chain of carbon atoms the more likely that it will group with other remaining carbon chains to produce particulates.

    Gasoline’s main/characteristic hydrocarbon is a much shorter and branched carbon chain (not all carbon atoms are in line, and there are carbon atoms bonded to three other carbons rather than just one on each side) that facilitates the breaking of carbon bonds and improved ability to oxidize. The result is fewer and shorter remaining carbon chains, thus less and smaller particulates.

    Direct diesel injection greatly reduces PM by injecting fuel at higher pressure with fancier injectors to improve atomization (making vaporization quicker and more likely to complete during combustion as unvaporized liquid becomes PM) and more turbulence in the combustion chamber. Gasoline direct injection benefits from the same things, combined with the fuel’s inherent tendency to produce fewer/smaller particulates. I don’t think PM emissions will become an issue with GDI engines.

    edit: for visual reference of the comparative molecule sizes and shapes look at the Wikipedia articles.

    Gasoline (octane, isooctane, is really 2,2,4 Trimethylpentane)-,2,4-Trimethylpentane

    Diesel (cetane, really hexadecane) –

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Two late comments from me (I was out of the country):

    Diesel fuel still has a tax avantage in Germany, as in many other countries. Diesel is taxed per liter (/gallon) and not per energy unit. But Diesel packs more energy per liter. So any regime that taxes Diesel at the same rate as gasoline is giving Diesel an (unfair) advantage.

    Rapeseed / Canola – based Diesel as Chuck G said, is a relatively benign fuel. I’d like to add that rapeseed is a soil improver and not necessarily a food replacer. A farmer can sow rapeseed every four or so years, and his crops will benefit as a general result.

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