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U.S. Ethanol Exports Could Hit Record 4 Billion Gallons by 2022, Says Expert

ALTOONA, IA -- Exports of U.S. ethanol could hit a record 4 billion gallons a year in 2022, according to Mike Dwyer, chief economist for the U.S. Grains Council.

Dwyer made the prediction Tuesday during a roundtable discussion on trade at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit, which was held at the Prairie Meadows Conference Center in Altoona, Iowa. The annual event is sponsored by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

If the U.S. ethanol industry exports a total 4 billion gallons in 2022, it would more than the double the current record of 1.62 billion gallons of ethanol exports set during the 2017-2018 marketing year that ended August 31, 2018.

During that 12-month period, U.S. ethanol was exported to 74 countries, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

U.S. ethanol exports during the current marketing year that ends August 31 are on track to hit 2 billion gallons, Dwyer noted.

The U.S. Grains Council is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes the exports of U.S. corn, sorghum, and barley and value-added products made from those commodities.

Dwyer said that the Grain Council’s global strategy includes selling ethanol to the Chinese market despite trade disputes between the U.S. and China that have roiled the markets there for U.S. crops and other products.

China currently imposes a 70% duty on U.S. ethanol, Dwyer stated, but it will have to find a way to import foreign ethanol if it aims to fulfill the mandate it has imposed to use a blend of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline (E10) by 2020.

It is possible that China could import approximately 1 billion gallons of U.S. ethanol to meet its E10 mandate, Dwyer told Successful Farming in an interview after his presentation at the Iowa Renewable Fuel Summit. That would make China the first country to import 1 billion gallons of U.S. ethanol a year, he added.

If trade issues between the U.S. and China are resolved, Dwyer stated, ethanol imports by China could hit 300 million gallons this year.

Kelly Nieuwenhuis, a farmer from Primghar, Iowa, who traveled to China last year on a U.S. Grains Council trade mission, said that he was told by Chinese gasoline retailers that they want to do business with the U.S. ethanol industry. The Chinese also expressed a desire to use more ethanol because they know it will improve their air quality, Nieuwenhuis remarked.

Dwyer said that the Grains Council believes that by 2022, 75% of U.S. ethanol exports will go to six countries: China, India, Japan, Brazil, Canada, and Mexico.

Ethanol to Mexico

Ron Lamberty, senior vice president and market development director for the American Coalition for Ethanol in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said during his presentation at the trade roundtable that he has made seven trips to Mexico to advise the transportation fuels industry there on how it can integrate the use of E10 into Mexico’s fuel supply.

Mexico has made the use of E10 legal in the country, Lamberty said, except for the cities of Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey where a Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) waiver or lower RVP blendstock would be required for E10 to be used. Small quantities of ethanol are currently being sold in Mexican cities on the U.S.-Mexico border, Lamberty told Successful Farming in an interview after his presentation.

Lamberty has participated in technical workshops on ethanol that have been held for Mexico’s petroleum equipment installers and retailers. The workshops were a joint effort of the U.S. Grains Council and the Mexican Association of Petroleum Equipment Suppliers (AMPES) and were intended to inform Mexican fuel marketers about sourcing, blending, distributing, and retailing ethanol-blended gasoline.

Mexico’s potential annual E10 market totals 1.2 billion gallons, Lamberty stated, which represents 200 million gallons more U.S. ethanol than Canada would use if all gasoline contained 10% ethanol. Canada was the second-largest importer of U.S. ethanol in the marketing year ended August 31, 2018. Brazil was the largest importer of U.S. ethanol during the most recently-completed marketing year.

2018 Was a ‘Tough Year’

In opening remarks at the Summit, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw said that 2018 was his toughest year yet working for the industry.

Making the year 2018 particularly difficult were the fight for the year-round sales of E15, China trade disputes, and the plethora of small-refinery exemptions to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) granted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The exemptions have been estimated to have cut the demand for ethanol domestically by 2.25 billion gallons a year.

Shaw emphasized that despite the policy challenges, the biofuels industry fought hard and won a victory when President Donald Trump announced on October 9, 2018, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, that he had ordered the EPA to begin a rulemaking process that will allow the year-round sale of E15.

As 2019 ramps up, Shaw said the state of the biofuels industry is “hurting but hopeful… Due to small-refinery exemptions and the China trade dispute, ethanol producers are facing a period of prolonged breakeven or negative margins the likes of which we haven’t seen in many years. And biodiesel producers are forced to sell their product based on Congress retroactively restoring the blenders’ tax credit.”

Despite the drawbacks, he said, Iowa biofuels producers are hopeful. “We have ample feedstocks, efficient production capacity, and the ability to once again power the rural economy to prosperity,” Shaw stated

He also noted that, during 2019, the industry will likely see the outcome of many pending lawsuits over small-refinery exemptions, the highly-anticipated E15 rule allowing its sale year-round, the announcement of 2020 blend levels, a possible RFS reset rule, and other beneficial developments.

“Quite frankly, when you look at the plethora of issues on our plate that should come to a head this year, I will not be surprised if 2019 goes down in biofuels history as the most impactful year – for better or worse – since 2005,” Shaw concluded. “We may not like every answer we get. But I’m confident that 2019 can be a great year for biofuels and biofuels policy.”

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association represents the state’s liquid renewable fuels industry, which is the nation’s leader in renewable fuels production with 43 ethanol refineries capable of producing almost 4.5 billion gallons annually, including approximately 55 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol production, and 12 biodiesel facilities with the capacity to produce 400 million gallons annually.

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