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ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT - BIOFUELS WILL GET THE BETTER OF FOSSIL FUELS, BUT IT MAY TAKE AWHILE

Running on rapeseed

IS YOUR car running on empty? Has the high price of gasoline got you down? Filling up with French fries does not have to be a fiction. Science knows that biofuels can - and do - propel automobiles forward. Although the situation is far from common, fuels based purely on biological components exist.

IS YOUR car running on empty? Has the high price of gasoline got you down? Filling up with French fries does not have to be a fiction. Science knows that biofuels can - and do - propel automobiles forward. Although the situation is far from common, fuels based purely on biological components exist.

Biofuels are advantageous from several points of view. They are environmentally friendly in that they use renewable energy sources. They also create new business prospects for agriculture. For example, Slovakia is growing rapeseed (Canola), with a portion of it being produced for eventual biofuel consumption.

But biofuel production is still young and consequently more expensive than fossil fuel production - at least in short-term costs. Nevertheless, biofuels are making slow but steady inroads onto the markets. In the EU, biofuels are used mainly in countries in which the state governments offer various incentive programmes.

According to European Union directives, every member country must adopt legislation that requires motor fuels to include biocomponents. The directive says that by the end of 2005, biofuels should share 2 percent of the overall fuel production. According to law, this figure should rise to 5.75 percent by 2010. So far, only Austria, Germany and Spain have fulfilled these EU requirements.

Slovakia has not yet adopted the relevant legislation, even though a Slovak cabinet resolution dated November 2004 demanded its elaboration by year-end. The Slovak National Programme, tasked with setting the conditions and obligations to enforce the biofuels legislation, is still underway.

Insufficient legislative conditions to enforce EU laws in the area of biofuels as well as a lack of government incentives to promote the growth of private biofuel use ensures that biofuel production will creep ahead very slowly indeed in Slovakia.

Despite Slovakia's apparent disinterest in biofuels and EU legislation, Slovak fuel producer Slovnaft has already started producing fuels with biocomponents.

"Slovnaft started biofuel production before the introduction of relevant legislation in Slovakia. We started producing diesel with bio-components (MERO) in September of this year, and we will start producing petrol with bio-components (ETBE) in 2006," Kristína Félová, Slovnaft's spokeswoman, told The Slovak Spectator.

Félová added that Slovanaft would likely limit its production volumes of this type of fuel to the minimum required by law.

Production of biofuels is more expensive at this point for a few reasons. One of them is economies of scale. Rapeseed is not grown and sold by competing companies to a large market to drive down the overall price; the same goes for production costs.

Félová thinks the environmental benefit of using biocomponents to thin out fossil fuels is negligible.

"Of course, the advantage is that biocomponents are a renewable energy source. But they are added in fuels only in a very limited extent. It would probably be more effective to use renewable energy sources in electricity or heating production," she said.

Other reasons for the high cost of biofuels - or at this point, fossil fuels with biocomponents - have to do with regulations. Biofuels in Austria, for example, are awarded lower excise taxes compared to classical fuels. No such luck in Slovakia


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EDIBLE oil producer Palma-Tumys is also a producer of a biocomponent for fuel, the SITA news agency reported. The Slovak company produces methylester of rapeseed oil, otherwise known as MERO, a bio additive used in diesel.
The company invested around Sk163 million (€4.2 million) in 2001 to produce MERO. Production started at an annual capacity of 20 thousand tonnes per year.
According to Ivan Beblavý, Palma-Tumys' general director, the company increased its production capacity to 3,000 tonnes per month. The firm exports the majority of additive to Germany.

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