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German farmers championing 'flower power' for cleaner energy
BERLIN (AFP) Jan 30, 2005
Germany is looking to messier energy sources to produce cleaner fuel, showing the world that it is possible use all-natural plant and animal products to run cars and heat homes.

In a famously ecological country, innovators have backed away from belching gas guzzlers and looked to new energy sources such as gas from liquid manure, rapeseed diesel and wood-burning electric power stations.

The "Green Week" in Berlin, Europe's biggest agricultural fair, has given center stage to cleaner forms of energy whose sources can be found right on the farm.

Growers of rapeseed, one of the primary sources of cooking oil, have discovered their crop has a new calling at petrol stations. Heated to a high temperature, it becomes a biological form of diesel that emits only a fraction of the carbon dioxide.

Some 1.1 million tonnes of the fuel, nicknamed "flower power", were produced by about 20 manufacturers in 2004 in Germany. About 1,800 petrol stations sell it, benefiting from an exemption from the fuel tax.

In time, up to 10 percent of the diesel used in the European Union could be "biodiesel," according to its promoters, up from two percent in Germany today.

"With this type of product, you know it will always sell," said Tobias Mickler of the Renewable Products Agency, pointing out several brand new car models running on biodiesel on display at the Green Week.

A few meters away, engineer Eckhard Schneider sings the praises of power stations running on liquid manure -- cattle urine and dung -- fermented with corn, rye or grass.

The energy released is used as a source of heat on farms and surrounding areas and can be used to produce electricity.

"Two thousand farms use biological gas in Germany," Schneider said, adding that he also has clients in France.

"In time, half the 400,000 German farms will be equipped with these kind of power stations."

Wood burning systems of all sizes that offer the same dual sources of heat and electricity were also out in force at the Green Week. Publicly subsidized, they can be used on farms but also in private homes and workshops.

In 2003, renewable energy supplied 3.1 percent of the energy used by consumers in Germany, versus 1.3 percent in 1990, according to the consumer protection ministry.

Germany's center-left government has taken a leading role in championing cleaner energy sources, reducing the country's reliance on tightening oil supplies, risky nuclear power and heavy carbon dioxide producers, believed to be responsible for global warming.

Biological energy is the most productive of the renewable energy sources which also include wind, hydraulic and solar power, the ministry said.

Each year, it allows the country to prevent the emission of nearly 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gases.

The dreamers even believe that biomass -- organic products used to produce energy -- could power an entire town.

Juehnde, close to the northern university city of Goettingen, decided to test the theory. The town, population 800, now predicts it will soon be able to satisfy all of its heat and electricity needs with animal and plant products from its own backyard.

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