Report confirms U.S. position as world's top ethanol producer

By Kris Bevill | August 31, 2011

Washington, D.C.-based independent research firm Worldwatch Institute recently released an analysis of global biofuels production for 2010. The analysis confirms continual growth within the industry, specifically within the U.S. Global biofuels production increased by 17 percent in 2010, compared to 10 percent in 2009, according to the report. Biodiesel and ethanol production were both up, but ethanol continues to dominate worldwide, accounting for 86 billion liters (almost 23 billion gallons) of the world’s 105 billion liters (27.7 billion gallons) of biofuels produced in 2010. In the U.S., ethanol output increased by 20 percent last year to 49 billion liters (13 billion gallons), or slightly more than half of the world’s total ethanol production.

The report’s authors said at least some of that growth should be credited to oil refiners. “In the United States, the record production of biofuels is attributed in part to high oil prices, which encouraged several large fuel companies, including Sunoco, Valero, Flint Hills and Murphy Oil to enter the ethanol industry,” said Alexander Ochs, director of Worldwatch’s climate and energy program.

Despite difficult economic and weather conditions, ethanol production from sugarcane in Brazil increased by 2 billion liters in 2010 for a total output of 28 billion liters (7 billion gallons), or 7 percent more than the year before. It was enough of an increase to maintain the nation’s position as the second largest ethanol producing-country in the world, but it wasn't enough to satisfy rising demand, and the United States began exporting significant amounts of corn-based ethanol to Brazil and elsewhere in order to make up for the shortfall. In fact, U.S. producers sent 1.3 billion liters (about 343 million gallons) of ethanol to other countries in 2010, a staggering 300 percent increase over U.S. export totals the previous year.

The U.S. DOE Energy Information Administration has also reported dramatic increases in ethanol exports over the past year and said it expects the trend to continue. Worldwatch noted, however, that European producers may soon increase their production levels as well, which could slightly dampen demand for U.S. imports. “Although the U.S. and Brazil are the world leaders in ethanol, the largest producer of biodiesel is the European Union,” Ochs said. “However, we may see some European countries switch from biodiesel to ethanol because a recent report from the European Commission states that ethanol crops have a higher energy content than biodiesel crops, making them more efficient sources of fuel.”