EIA predicts gradual increase in biofuel use through 2050

By Erin Voegele | February 15, 2021

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released its Annual Energy Outlook 2021 (AEO2021) on Feb. 3, predicting that the consumption of biofuels as a share of the domestic fuel mix will gradually increase through 2050.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic affected demand for all liquid fuels last year, the EIA notes that biofuel consumption has not decreased as much as petroleum-based fuels. AEO2021’s reference case, which represents the EIA’s best assessment of how energy markets will operate through 2050, predicts that biofuels consumption will return to 2019 levels in 2021, slightly faster than petroleum-based transportation fuels. As a result, biofuels will account for an increasing share of the domestic fuel mix.

The EIA attributes the quicker rebound in biofuels consumption primarily to regulatory support, such as the federal Renewable Fuel Standard and California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

In the AEO2021 reference case, the EIA projects that the percentage of biofuels blended into the U.S. transportation fuel pool will increase and slowly grow through 2050. In the event of high oil prices, the EIA expects the share of biofuels consumed in the U.S. would rise to a greater percentage as higher prices for gasoline and diesel would make biofuels more competitive.

Biodiesel production is expected to grow slightly in the reference case, maintaining a steady level of supply through 2050. Renewable diesel production is expected to grow at a higher rate. Ethanol consumption is expected to return to pre-COVID levels in later years of the projection period, steadily growing through 2050 because of higher ethanol blends making their way into the on-road transportation fuel, according to the EIA.

Overall the AEO2021 reference case predicts a 0.8 percent increase in biofuel from 2020 through 2050, up from the 0.3 percent increase included in the AEO2020 reference case. The AEO2021 reference case predicts ethanol production will grow 1 percent through 2050, reaching 1.2 million barrels per day, up from a 0.3 percent increase predicted in the AEO2020 reference case, which equates to 1.1 million barrels per day. Net ethanol imports are expected to increase by 4 percent in the AEO2021 reference case, up from 2.9 percent predicted in the AEO2020 reference case.

Biodiesel production is expected to grow by 0.5 percent through 2050, according to the AEO2021 reference case, reaching 130,000 barrels per day. The AEO2020 reference case predicted a 0.2 percent increase, equating to 150,000 barrels per day of production. Net biodiesel imports are expected to grow 3.7 percent, reaching 10,000 barrels per day in 2050, up from last year’s prediction of a 3.5 percent increase, equating to 50,000 barrels per day.

Domestic production of other biomass-derived liquids, including pyrolysis oils, biomass-derived Fischer-Tropsch liquids, biobutanol and renewable feedstocks used for the on-site production of diesel and gasoline, is expected to grow by 3.5 percent, reaching 90,000 barrels per day by 2050. The AEO2020 reference case predicted a 5.3 percent increase, which would equate to 110,000 barrels per day of production in 2050.

Additional information on the EIA’s 2020 Annual Energy Outlook is available on the agency’s website.