May 6, 2007 / 5:11 AM / 10 years ago

Philippines launches biofuel, motorists wait

MANILA, May 6 (Reuters ) - The Philippines' biofuels law came into effect on Sunday with little fanfare or information and only a partial rollout of the much-vaunted 1 percent coconut blend diesel.

Motorists were surprised to hear use of the cleaner fuel was now mandatory.

"I would like to try it but I have some questions first," said Gonzalo Bondad, 44, as he waited for his SUV to be filled up at a Petron gas station in Manila's financial district. "Is it necessary to convert the car beforehand?"

The Philippine government is pushing biofuels to cut the country's annual $6 billion plus oil import bill and rely more on locally-produced crops such as coconut, sugar, jathropa, palm oil and soybeans.

The Southeast Asian country is the world's largest exporter of coconut oil.

But despite hailing the new legislation as an economic and environmental breakthrough, the government has yet to explain how it will implement and police the change.

A forecourt supervisor at Petron, the country's largest fuel supplier, said his station had yet to receive the new blend.

"We were advised to expect it this week," said Rommel Andres. "They told us that we will be giving out leaflets about it."

Chemrez Technologies, the country's largest coco-biodiesel producer, has produced its own free comic about the fuel to increase consumer awareness.

The new fuel initially comes at no extra expense, but industry officials say it will eventually cost drivers at least 30 centavos extra per liter, nearly 1 percent higher than the average retail price of 33.45 ($0.70) per barrel in the capital.

Motorists said they would be willing to shell out extra if it meant less pollution.

"If it will serve the environment, why not?" said Jimmy Gochang, 70. "The air here is really terrible."

The law envisages that gasoline will contain a 5-percent mix of ethanol by 2009.

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