The European Commission in Brussels on Thursday announced plans to replace 20 percent of present EU consumption of diesel and petrol transport fuels with alternative fuels by 2020.

It said there were three possibilities: biofuels, which were already available, natural gas in the medium term and hydrogen and fuel cells in the long term.

A proposed directive, which would be binding on the 15 EU member states, would set a minimum for biofuels of two percent in 2005 rising to 5.75 percent in 2010. A second Directive would give member governments the option of applying a reduced rate of excise duty to pure or blended biofuels.

The plan is designed both to reduce dependence on oil imports and to help farmers because biofuels are made from plant oils, sugar beet, cereals and other crops.

Separately, the environment committee of the European Parliament called on Thursday for the mandatory introduction of sulphur-free petrol and diesel fuel by 1 January 2008, three years ahead of the deadline proposed by the Commission. It said off-road machinery and farm tractors should be included in the legislation. The committee's decision will be discussed by the full Parliament later this month.

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