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German bioethanol firms call for reduced imports

German bioethanol producers are calling for cuts in bioethanol imports, which have not been produced from sustainable agriculture, said Petra Sprick, CEO of German biofuels industry association VDB.

Sprick said cheap bioethanol imports, such as those from Brazil, are pushing German producers out of the market and that such imports have often been produced on farmland cleared of tropical rain forests. Clearing tropical rain forests to produce biofuels meant far greater damage to the environment even if the resulting biofuel cut down on emissions of gases that contribute to global warming, she said. “German biofuels production plants are being closed down, because they cannot find customers for their products produced from sustainable agriculture, but the European oil industry is using questionable cheap imports to fulfill its blending quotas.”

Bioethanol is blended with fossil diesel in several countries as part of moves to reduce pollution and combat global warming. Germany demands that oil companies blend a 2% bioethanol content in fossil gasoline at oil refineries. “The European oil industry has decided to buy bioethanol in large volumes from Brazil,” she said. “A couple of months ago this was not possible as we do have import tariffs but grain prices are now so high that bioethanol production in Germany is no longer competitive.” “We did not expect the European oil industry to make large volume imports from Brazil as we have a supply surplus in Europe,” she said. “But we have seen in the past months and weeks the European oil industry making increased purchases from Brazil, while our home production capacity is idle.”

German bioethanol producer Verbio said on March 19 that cheap imports, especially from Brazil, and high grain prices had pushed its bioethanol production into a loss and that it had stopped production at a 200,000 ton annual capacity plant. Sprick said she welcomed the German government’s recent announcement that imported biofuels should come from sustainable agriculture. “We hope this will result in new regulations on imports, but this could take two years,” she said. “In the meantime we appeal to the European oil industry to stop imports of cheap bioethanol imports from countries where its production creates massive destruction to nature.” Germany produced about 310,000 tons of bioethanol in 2007, down from 340,000 in 2006. The European Union produces about 1.3 million tons annually. (Reuters)