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Biodiesel and renewable diesel US imports

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The US EIA has said that after reaching record levels in 2013, US imports of biomass based diesel fuel fell 36% to 333 million gal. in 2014. Uncertainty surrounding future Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) targets and the absence of a late year influx of volumes from Argentina were tow main factors in this decline. It has been reported that the strongest drivers of the resurgence in the US biomass based diesel demand since 2012 has been the increase in RFS targets and the on again, off again biodiesel tax credit. Biodiesel and renewable diesel are vulnerable because they qualify for the two major renewable fuel programmes in the US: the RFS applied at the national level, and California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). Biomass based diesel fuels have additional advantages over other renewable fuels because of their relatively high energy content and low carbon intensity, which allow them to qualify for higher credit values in both renewable fuel programmes.

Both biodiesel and renewable diesel fuels are produced from refining vegetable oils or animal fats. Biodiesel is blended with petroleum diesel up to 5% or 20% by volume. Renewable diesel is a diesel like fuel that meets specifications for us in existing infrastructure and diesel engines, and this is not subject to any blending limitations.


The RFS is meant to encourage the production and consumption of renewable fuels, but obligations for 2014 still have not been finalised and those for 2015 have not yet been proposed. The initial proposal for the 2014 RFS program year, released in November 2013, stated that the 2014 biomass based diesel obligation would remain unchanged from its 2013 value at 1.28 billion gals., while the advanced biofuels obligation would be reduced to 2.2 billion gals., down from 2.75 billion gals. in 2013. The uncertainty and proposed lower target levels have made it difficult for refiners to comply with the RFS recently, but the flexibility and value of biomass based diesel volumes towards all obligation levels make it a strong driver of biodiesel consumption as long as the RFS is still active.

Further lower import reasons

There are two other factors that explain lower biomass based diesel imports in 2014. Late in 2013 there was a surge of biodiesel imports from Argentina as a result of EU antidumping duties place on Argentine biodiesel. This action by the EU temporarily diverted large volumes of Argentine biomass based diesel that was previously to be exported to Europe, the country’s largest biodiesel export market to the US. US imports of biodiesel from Argentina fell by 57% from 2013 to 52 million gals in 2014.

Another factor was the expiration of the US$1 /gal. biodiesel tax credit at the end of 2013. The credit was retroactively restored at the end of 2014 and the extent to which producers considered this outcome in making decisions during 2014 remains unknown. Still, relatively high diesel fuel prices for much of 2014 kept domestic biodiesel relatively economic to blend, supporting production at levels near those in 2013. Domestic biomass based diesel production was sufficient to meet most of the proposed reduced RFS obligations in 2014, thus reducing the need for imports. Total imports of biodiesel and renewable diesel represented an average of 23% of domestic biomass based diesel consumption last year, down from an average of 34% of consumption in 2013.

The 212 million gal. of biodiesel imported into the US in 2014 was sourced primarily from Canada, reclaiming its spot as the top US supplier after being surpassed by Argentina in 2013. The remaining volumes of regular biodiesel imports entered the US primarily on the East Coast, mostly from Indonesia and Argentina. US renewable diesel imports reached 121 million gallons in 2013, down 42% from 2013. Slightly more than 92% of total US renewable diesel imports came from Singapore and entered the US primarily through West Coast ports, likely destined for California LCFS compliance.

Adapted from press release by Claira Lloyd

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