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EIA: US ethanol exports reach highest level since 2011

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

US exports of fuel ethanol reached their highest level in four years in 2015 totalling 844 million gal., a slight increase from 2014 and second only to the 1.2 billion gal. exported during 2011. US imports of ethanol, which totalled 73 million gal. in 2014, also increased in 2015, reaching a total of 92 million gal. The US remained a net exporter of fuel ethanol for the sixth consecutive year and exported the fuel to 35 different countries in 2015.

In the US, ethanol is primarily used as a blending component in the production of motor gasoline (mainly blended in volumes up to 10% ethanol, also known as E10). Corn is the primary feedstock of ethanol in the US, and large corn harvests have contributed to increased ethanol production in recent years. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that the US produced 13.6 billion bushels of corn in the 2015 - 16 harvest year (typically October and November), 4% lower than the record set in 2014 - 15 but on par with the level produced in 2013 - 14. US ethanol production reached a record level of 14.8 billion gal. in 2015, surpassing the previous record of 14.3 billion gal. set in 2014.

US ethanol demand was driven higher in 2015 because of increased gasoline consumption, which rose by an estimated 2.7% from its 2014 level, reaching the highest level since the record set in 2007. As gasoline consumption increases, more ethanol can be used as a blendstock (as E10). Additional volumes of ethanol beyond requirements for E10 blending and relatively small volumes used in higher ethanol blends such as E85 (51% to 83% ethanol, 49% to 17% gasoline) were exported.

Canada remained the top destination for US ethanol exports in 2015, receiving 249 million gal. about 30% of all US ethanol exports. Brazil and the Philippines were the next largest importers of US ethanol in 2015, at 116 million gal. and 72 million gal., respectively. Driven by growing gasoline demand and air quality concerns, China significantly increased imports of US ethanol volumes in 2015, increasing from 3 million gal. in 2014 to 70 million gal. in 2015. US ethanol has been a competitively priced octane booster for gasoline in foreign markets as well as an attractive option for meeting renewable fuel and greenhouse gas emissions programmes. Additionally, countries such as Canada and Brazil have ethanol blending mandates that continue to generate demand for US ethanol.

Given the large amount of existing ethanol production capacity, ongoing constraints for blending ethanol into domestic gasoline, and the value of ethanol in foreign markets as a source of clean octane, the US likely will remain an exporter of ethanol in 2016.

Although the US was a large exporter of ethanol in recent years, it also imports some ethanol. US ethanol imports totalled 92 million gal. in 2015, an increase of 23% from 2014. Almost all (96%) US imports came from Brazil, up from 74% in 2014, with the remaining gallons coming from Canada. US import demand for ethanol was primarily driven by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) targets, dictating the use of biofuels with low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Lifecycle GHG emissions from sugarcane ethanol production, as estimated by scoring systems used in these programmes, are significantly lower than those from conventionally produced corn ethanol. The California LCFS, which mandates progressively more stringent requirements for increased blending of low GHG fuel components over time, was particularly important in driving larger volumes of Brazilian ethanol imports in 2015, with 44 million gal. entering the US on the West Coast, more than triple the 13 million gal. imported in 2014.

Adapted from press release by Francesca Brindle

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