The U.S. Holds Sway over the Global Ethanol Market

Basic Chemicals December 17, 2015
Author: Olga Minchina
Account Manager

Ethyl alcohol, also called ethanol or grain alcohol, is an essential industrial chemical that offers multiple applications in the industrial sectors of pharmaceuticals, alcoholic beverages, chemical feedstock, and automotives. Of all these sectors, the automotive segment has had the fastest growth in the usage of ethanol.

U.S. ethanol remains one of the least expensive liquid transportation fuels in the world. With a global movement toward increased renewable fuel production gaining momentum, there are more than 60 countries with biofuel consumption targets or mandates. This trend has helped to boost employment, create investment and lower carbon emissions across the globe. In addition, the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facilities in the U.S. began manufacturing the next generation of biofuels.

Currently, the U.S. produces more than half of global ethanol, providing access to the energy and economic benefits of renewable fuel. U.S. ethanol is highly dependent on corn production. Lately, U.S. ethanol has been the lowest cost motor fuel and octane source on the planet. As a result, global demand is booming and American-made ethanol is rapidly finding its way into new international markets.

Falling oil prices and a relentless misinformation campaign funded by over-anxious oil companies, along with some dubious governmental policy uncertainty, may represent serious issues for U.S. ethanol producers in 2015.

Although the U.S. has enjoyed a strangle-hold on the worldwide production of biofuels, other nations like Brazil have been catching up rapidly. In fact, Brazil is one of the most interesting examples of ethanol adoption. In the 1970s, the OPEC oil embargo prompted the government to subsidize ethyl alcohol production. Tax incentives for Brazilian car makers were offered, with the aim to manufacture vehicles that could burn straight, 100 percent ethanol. By the mid-80s, nearly all cars sold in Brazil ran exclusively on ethanol.

Brazilian ethanol is produced from the plentiful sugar cane that thrives in its tropical climate. As it is 20 percent sugar, the entire plant can be fermented into alcohol. Corn, by contrast, locks up its sugar in complex starches in the kernels that have to be broken down by costly enzymes before fermentation. Sugar cane fields, on the other hand, yield between 600 and 800 gallons of ethanol per acre, more than twice as much as corn.

In 2014, Canada (14%), the U.S. (11%), Germany (10%), the Netherlands (8%) and Japan (7%) were the leading destinations of ethyl alcohol imports, together making up 49% of global imports in physical terms. While the share of Canada increased, the share of the U.S. illustrated negative dynamics. The shares of the other countries remained relatively stable throughout the analyzed period.

In 2014, the U.S., Brazil and France were the main global suppliers of ethyl alcohol with a combined share of 56% of global exports. However, the fastest growing suppliers from 2007 to 2014 were the Netherlands (+42% per year) and the U.S. (+26% per year). The main producers held the lion's share in global ethyl alcohol exports.

The U.S. dominates in global ethyl alcohol production and trade. In 2014, the U.S. exported 5.4% of its total ethyl alcohol output. Of this amount, 40.3% was supplied to Canada, where U.S. ethyl alcohol held a 39.7% share of total Canada's consumption.

Source: World: Ethyl Alcohol - Market Report. Analysis and Forecast to 2020