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US ethanol exports top 1.3 billion gallons in 2020 despite pandemic and barriers

Ethanol exports from the United States (US) totalled 1.33 billion (US) gallons (≈ 5.03 billion litres) in 2020, down 9 percent from 2019 and the lowest volume since 2016, according to official statistics released on February 5, 2021, by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). Despite the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and trade barriers both the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and Growth Energy highlight that ethanol exports were a bright spot.

Ethanol exports from the United States (US) totalled 1.33 billion (US) gallons (≈ 5.03 billion litres) in 2020, down 9% from 2019 and the lowest volume since 2016, according to official statistics released on February 5, 2021, by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). All things considered with the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and trade barriers both the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and Growth Energy highlight that ethanol exports were a bright spot and remain cautiously optimistic on export prospects for 2021 (photo courtesy RFA).

Figures from USDA FAS show that US ethanol exports dropped 9 percent from 2019. Yet despite the pandemic and trade barriers, exports were a relative bright spot in 2020, says the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) as the annual volume was the fourth-highest on record and nearly one out of every 10 gallons of American ethanol produced last year was exported.

COVID-19 and protectionist trade barriers created enormous headwinds for ethanol in the international market in 2020. But the US ethanol industry again rose to the challenge and supplied more than 1.3 billion gallons of clean, green renewable fuel to customers across the globe. American ethanol continues to play a crucial role in helping nations around the world reduce consumer fuel costs, cut harmful tailpipe pollution, and meet decarbonization commitments under the Paris climate agreement. We are especially encouraged to see that China finally re-entered the market in December, importing nearly 13 million gallons of US ethanol. We enter 2021 on solid footing and the industry is optimistic about the prospects for meaningful growth in ethanol exports, said Geoff Cooper, President and CEO of RFA.

Canada took over as the top export market during 2020, receiving 326 million gallons (≈ 1.23 billion litres), or almost one-quarter of the total. Shipments to Canada in 2020 were only 1.5 percent lower than the volumes exported there in 2019 and according to Growth Energy is expected to grow with the Clean Fuel Standard (CFS) as well as provincial moves to higher biofuel blends.

In a year where gasoline demand has taken an unprecedented dive due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re optimistic to see worldwide ethanol demand continue to provide US producers with market opportunities. One of our main objectives at Growth Energy is building strategic global partnerships with countries around the world in order to grow demand here at home and to underscore to international leaders the economic and environmental benefits of ethanol. As we look ahead, a global movement is afoot to achieve aggressive clean energy goals, and the 2020 ethanol export number reflects that the world is seeing biofuels as a part of the solution as an affordable, low-carbon, high-octane fuel, commented Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy.

By contrast, volumes to Brazil that topped in 2019, dropped 40 percent to 200 million gallons (≈ 757 million litres) of US ethanol in 2020, due to constant uncertainty surrounding import tariff issues between the two countries.

While overall export volumes were down from 2019 levels, shipments to several key markets increased – India, the European Union (EU), Mexico, and Nigeria all imported more American ethanol in 2020 than in 2019.

Indeed India was the third-leading export market, with 190 million gallons (≈ 731.5 million litres) representing a 9 percent increase compared to 2019. It was followed by South Korea at 106 million gallons (≈ 401 million litres and the Netherlands (EU) at 77.5 million gallons (≈ 293 million litres).

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