Mike Wilson, Senior Executive Editor

January 21, 2007

5 Min Read

— Here in Germany -  a nation where over half of the vehicles are fueled by diesel — the prospects are high for farmers who want to provide oil into the biodiesel market. Germany is Europe's largest biodiesel producer — but it is also its largest user.

"We have a big market, but it's already a full market,•bCrLf explains Jens Haupt (below), a specialty adviser at AGQM, the German group that looks out for biodiesel quality from manufacturer to pump. Haupt and I met in AGQM's office in downtown Berlin last week, an important stop on my way to cover Europe's biggest food and agriculture show, GreenWeek.

AGQM was born out of necessity — in the early days, too much bad biodiesel was clogging good German engines. In 1997 Volkswagen, one of Germany's leading car manufacturers, gave its first warranty for biodiesel. It was then the company wrote a letter to UFOP, a loosely-joined organization of German farm groups and plant breeders created to promote and market biodiesel.

"Volkswagen said if you don't fix the quality situation we will take back our warranties,•bCrLf says Haupt. "That letter is why AGQM was started.•bCrLf

Biodesel quality has increased since then, and like the United States, fuel standards are strictly regulated.  AGQM is equivalent to the National Biodiesel Board in the United States.  AGQM's members include 14 bio-diesel manufacturers, 27 commercial enterprises and 12 sponsoring members and associations. This group is responsible for establishing a bio-diesel quality management system and monitoring manufacturers, warehouses and filling stations for quality. Of 1,700 biodiesel filling stations, more than 1,300 have joined AGQM's inspection system that guarantees the quality and traceability of the product.

Wrong crop? In Germany, farmers grow rapeseed, not soybeans, as the main supply of oil for biodiesel. "Rapeseed is a better raw material for biodiesel than soybeans,•bCrLf says Haupt. "There is no better natural oil in the world for biodiesel.•bCrLf

The differences between rapeseed, which is a kind of canola, compared to soybeans, emerges when the weather turns nippy. Without any additives, biodiesel from rape produces a CFPP —  cold filter plugging point — of about 12 to 14 degrees C. Biodiesel from soybeans has a CFPP of only four to five degrees C, says Haupt.

"In Germany our fuel standard CFPP is minus 20 degrees C,•bCrLf he says. "It's easy to get rape-based biodiesel down to 22 degrees C with additives. But with soy-based biodiesel the lowest you can go with additives is minus 10 degrees C.•bCrLf

So should the United States start growing rapeseed for biodiesel? That really depends on how we plan to use the fuel, says Haupt. "In Germany we began the industry planning to mix it, as a blend, like a B5 (5% oil with 95% diesel),•bCrLf he says. "In that case the requirements are not so high. But the European specs is for both — B5 and B100 — the requirements are more strict. In Europe, the biggest growth is in the B100 market.•bCrLf

 The AGQM has an agreement with its members that the production of winter diesel begin four weeks before the date required by the standard, so the consumer actually purchases a winter-hardy product at the needed time.

Learning curve Building a new market or industry is never easy, and biodiesel's growth in Germany faced rocky times early on. "We learned public filling stations were not constructed for B100 (100% Biodiesel),•bCrLf says Haupt. "In 1998 we dropped the use of leaded fuels so each petrol station had a free tank. Biodiesel was put in most of the tanks. What nobody knew, when filling stations were first built, the tanks had copper and metal fittings — so oxidation was a real problem. You could fill a tank with a load of biodiesel and a week later you'd have oxidation problems.•bCrLf AGQM had the tanks refitted with stainless steel.

And farmers needed to be educated about biodiesel. "They are looking at cheapest prices, usually in winter,•bCrLf says Haupt. "But they don't use the fuel sometimes until summer. We recommend not to store biodiesel any longer than three months and use oxidation stabilizers to help keep the fuel in good condition.•bCrLf

New targets The European Union has set an ambitious new goal to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, and given its farmers ample financial incentives to reach those goals.

The new proposal is a target of 20% for renewables in EU energy consumption by 2020, and 10% minimum target for biofuels in transport fuel by the same date.

Biodiesel plays a specific role in the government targets, says Haupt. "The EU wants 5.7% market share for biofuels by 2010,•bCrLf he says. "A new goal was published last year — 8% by 2015 — and to fulfill this goal there must be a lot of change in the policies of the different countries.

"It's not so easy because the tax systems for fuels throughout the EU are so different,•bCrLf he explains. "Normalizing these differences would take 10 years or more.•bCrLf

Plant oil source While it's heating up elsewhere, the food vs. fuel debate is not an issue in Germany. What has people talking here is where the plant oil comes from that serves the biodiesel market. Right now raw materials need to be imported, "and it's not a good idea to destroy rainforests in India or Malaysia to produce biofuels in Germany,•bCrLf says Haupt.

Today if you want to sell biodiesel for B5 to a mineral oil company, you have to authorize where the raw material comes from, he adds. "This is a big debate right now. We see this to become  a bigger market than food. I expect this to become a political discussion soon.•bCrLf

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About the Author(s)

Mike Wilson

Senior Executive Editor, Farm Progress

Mike Wilson is the senior executive editor for Farm Progress. He grew up on a grain and livestock farm in Ogle County, Ill., and earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Illinois. He was twice named Writer of the Year by the American Agricultural Editors’ Association and is a past president of the organization. He is also past president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists, a global association of communicators specializing in agriculture. He has covered agriculture in 35 countries.

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