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Ethanol fastest-growing U.S. ag export of past decade

Ethanol exports in 2018 totaled more than 6.5 billion liters, valued at $2.7 billion.

A recent analysis by the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) shows that non-beverage ethanol has been the fastest-growing U.S. agricultural export over the past decade by a significant margin.

In 2018, U.S. ethanol exports totaled more than 6.5 billion liters (1.72 billion gal., or 609 million bu. in corn equivalent), valued at $2.7 billion. Using trade data on 47 different agricultural and agriculture-related product groupings tracked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) via its Global Agricultural Trade System, the analysis revealed that the volume of ethanol exports grew 18% per year over the past five years and 13% per year over the past 10 years.

USGC 2019_05_Ethanol-Export-Performance_web2.jpg

Growth for each group was calculated on a fitted five- and 10 year-trend line and then was adjusted for volatility. Of the 47 groups evaluated over the past five years, 21 showed negative growth over the period. The rest increased, but at a slower rate than ethanol.

These data track with increasing ethanol trade globally and demonstrate why ethanol market development is so important to U.S. farmers and ethanol producers, the council noted.

“Ethanol is the perfect candidate for foreign market development, since few countries fully understand the multitude of benefits that comes from blending it into gasoline,” said USGC chief economist Mike Dwyer, who leads the council’s global ethanol effort.

In another sign of competitive strength, the U.S. share of world ethanol exports reached a record 61% in 2018, up from only 9% a decade ago. Over this period, the U.S. has gone from the world’s largest ethanol importer to the world’s leading exporter.

In 2014, USGC began carrying out foreign market development activities in partnership with FAS, Growth Energy, the Renewable Fuels Assn. and state corn organizations. While small at first, the effort has grown to a true global effort, with activities in 40 different markets funded by the ethanol industry, corn growers and farm bill export promotion programs administered by FAS.

Most of this ethanol is for fuel blending purposes, although ethanol’s use in industrial applications is significant and growing as well, USGC noted.

“At the end of the day, foreign market development is about educating buyers and policy-makers overseas on the complete value proposition conveyed by the product – in this case, ethanol,” Dwyer said.

He continued, “Our ethanol program focuses on how ethanol blending at E10 or higher can reduce the carbon intensity of finished fuel that many countries seek, has fewer emissions associated with air pollution, fewer threats to human health and with an octane value so high that U.S. ethanol is now the lowest-priced octane in the world [when] compared against other countries’ ethanol as well as fossil fuel alternatives. This offers motorists tangible fuel savings when blended optimally into their gasoline.”

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