RFS, Low Carbon Fuel Standards Impact Biomass-based Diesel and Ethanol Imports

Energy Information Administration says overall imports of biomass-based diesel are growing as sugarcane ethanol imports from Brazil decrease

Published on: May 6, 2014

U.S. imports of biodiesel and renewable diesel last year reached 525 million gallons, switching the U.S. from being a net exporter of biomass-based diesel in 2012 to a net importer in 2013 by a wide margin, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Friday.

Meanwhile, sugarcane ethanol imports from Brazil posted a 40% decline from 2012 to 242 million gallons, EIA said. Export volumes of corn-based ethanol to Brazil declined.

The change in biodiesel and renewable diesel imports was driven by growth in domestic biodiesel demand to satisfy renewable fuels targets, and increased access to biodiesel from other countries, according to an EIA update.

Energy Information Administration says overall imports of biomass-based diesel are growing as sugarcane ethanol imports from Brazil decrease
Energy Information Administration says overall imports of biomass-based diesel are growing as sugarcane ethanol imports from Brazil decrease

On the ethanol side, growing corn harvests and limited growth in the domestic ethanol market led the U.S. to become a net exporter of ethanol and the world's leading supplier. At the same time, decreased sugarcane harvests in Brazil led to significant reductions in Brazilian ethanol output and a reversal in traditional ethanol trade patterns, as U.S. volumes began entering Brazil to meet domestic demand.

Biodiesel and renewable diesel's import increase
The strongest driver of the resurgence in U.S. biomass-based diesel demand, EIA says, was the increasing Renewable Fuel Standard target.

A few other factors also impact demand for biomass-based diesel fuels – they have a higher energy content compared with ethanol, generating more Renewable Identification Number credits per gallon of fuel produced. In addition, renewable diesel meets the same American Society for Testing and Materials standards as petroleum diesel, and is thus not subject to the blending limits imposed on biodiesel.

Related: Study Quantifies Ethanol's Impact on Job Creation, National GDP

Biomass-based diesel fuels also qualify for the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which mandates a reduction the carbon content of gasoline and diesel fuels through 2020.