Japan’s ethanol imports expected to increase slightly

By Erin Voegele | September 15, 2016

Japan recently filed an annual biofuels report with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service’s Global Agricultural Information Network that highlights the country’s ethanol use and production.

According to the report, Japan has established its own sustainability standards for biofuels and only allows for ethanol with carbon emissions less than 50 percent that of gasoline. The analysis uses a life cycle assessment (LCA) to calculate carbon dioxide emissions associated with the entire supply chain, from cultivation of feedstocks to transportation of the final product to the consumer. The report indicates the only Brazilian sugarcane ethanol currently meets the sustainability standards. However, discussions to update the sustainability standards for biofuels could start this year.

The report also notes that the government of Japan currently requires oil refiners to supply 500 million liters of biofuels (crude oil equivalent) by 2017. Discussions to set post-2017 targets are expected to begin later this year.

The report estimates that Japan imported approximately 606 million liters (160.09 million gallons) of fuel ethanol last year, including the ethanol imported in bio-ethyl tert-butyl ether (ETBE), equaling an average blend of 1.14 percent. All of the ethanol imported to Japan last year came from Brazil.

Japan currently imports 99 percent of its ethanol. The report states that within Japan two companies currently produce approximately 1 million liters of synthetic ethanol annually from ethylene for use in industrial chemicals, while three additional refineries produce approximately 2 million liters of biobased ethanol from molasses and rice for use as fuel in the country.

According to the report, the Japan Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries discontinued providing assistance to three refineries producing fuel ethanol because it determined that without government support, high production costs would make operations extremely difficult. As a result, more than 24 million liters of capacity ceased operations.

Imports of fuel ethanol are expected to increase from 606 million liters in 2015 to 746 million liters this year and 822 million liters in 2017. Fuel ethanol consumption is also expected to increase, from 608 million liters in 2015, to 747 million liters in 2106 and 823 million liters in 2017.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the USDA FAS GAIN website.