Ethanol Production & 2016 Corn Consumption Prospects

Commodity traders are generally thinking last week’s EPA RFS rule making will cause more bushels of corn to be turned into ethanol next year. Todd Gleason reports University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Darrel Good is more doubtful.

Let’s start by building a corn for ethanol baseline to see why. The EIA, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, says U.S. production of fuel ethanol in 2014 totaled 14 billion 313 million gallons. That was about a billion gallons more than in 2013, and nearly 400 million gallons more than the record setting year of 2011. So, 14.313 billion gallons of ethanol were produced in 2014. During the first nine months of this year, writes Darrel Good on the Farm Doc Daily website, EIA shows production 3.6 percent larger than during the same 9 months last year. It appears October and November were on that same track, and while December looks to be off a bit, it should leave the yearly consumption at a whooping and record setting 14.745 billion gallons says U of I’s Good.

Quote Summary - Production at that level will require about 5.25 billion bushels of feedstock, mostly corn, for conventional ethanol production in 2015.

So the baseline is big, but let’s start back figuring for 2016 corn usage to make ethanol. U.S. EPA just released biofuels volumes for 2016. Those standards point to conventional ethanol consumption of 14.5 billion gallons for 2016. It’s about a 500 million gallon year-to-year increase says Good, however there is a second related factor. That factor is the blend wall, or how much gasoline is actually consumed in the United States .

Quote Summary - Based on EIA projections, consumption is expected to increase from 139.38 billion gallons in 2015 to 139.96 billion gallons in 2016. That expected increase of 580 million gallons follows an expected increase of 2.9 billion gallons in 2015. The conventional ethanol mandate of 14.5 billion gallons, then, reflects an expected small increase in the E–10 blend wall and a “push” to include larger quantities of higher ethanol blends (E–15 and E–85) in the domestic fuel supply. If the 2016 gasoline consumption forecast is correct, the E–10 blend wall will be 13.996 billion gallons.

Now, since some gasoline is consumed without ethanol and some with higher ethanol blends, the effective E–10 blend wall is actually thought to be 9.9 percent of consumption or 13.856 billion gallons. Here’s the back figure. Subtract from this number imported ethanol, add in a few additional E85 gallons, and total 2016 consumption of conventional ethanol says Darrel Good is not roughly 500 million gallons more than this year, but rather about the same as this year - though that 500 million gallon gap will still have to be filled.

Quote Summary - The difference between the RFS requirement of 14.5 billion gallons and the projected consumption of 13.903 billion gallons (597 million gallons) would have to be met with some combination of retirement of RINs stocks, additional quantities of E–85, or blending of additional quantities of advanced biofuels.

This outcome is very different from the initial reaction that an increase in the implied conventional ethanol requirement from the preliminary to final rule making for 2016 of 500 million gallons would result in a measurable increase in feedstock - corn - consumption.