USDA forecasts slower pace for biofuel production

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON – US production of biofuels will continue to rise in the next 10 years but at a much slower pace than in the past decade, according to long-term forecasts issued Feb. 11 by the US Department of Agriculture in its USDA Agricultural Projections to 2022.

The two principal biofuels produced in the United States are ethanol, which still is almost entirely corn based, and biodiesel, mostly derived from soybean oil, although other oils as well as meat fats have played prominent roles as feed stocks.

In 2004-05, corn used in the production of ethanol totaled 1,323,210,000 bushels, which equated to 11 percent of the 2004 corn outturn of 11,805,581,000 bushels. By 2011-12, corn used in the production of ethanol reached 5,011,030,000 bushels, which equated to 40 percent of the 2011 corn outturn of 12,359,612,000 bushels.

The amount of corn used in the production of ethanol was forecast to drop to 4,500,000 bushels in 2012-13, or 42 percent of the drought-reduced 2012 corn outturn of 10,725,000 bushels. Corn use for ethanol production was forecast to begin to increase steadily in subsequent years but not surpass the 2011-12 level until 2020-21. Corn use for ethanol was forecast at 5,375,000,000 bushels in 2022-23, the last year in the projection period.

The USDA said in commentary accompanying its corn supply-and-demand forecasts through 2022-23, “Projected increases in corn-based ethanol over the next 10 years are much smaller than occurred in 2005-2010. This projection reflects declining overall gasoline consumption in the United States (which is mostly a 10 percent ethanol blend, E10), infrastructural and other constraints on growth in the E15 (15 percent ethanol blend) market, and the small size of the E85 (85 percent ethanol blend) market. Nonetheless, a strong presence for ethanol in the sector continues, with about 35 percent of total corn use expected to go to ethanol production during the projection period.”

The use of soybean oil in the production of methyl esters (biodiesel) in the United States was estimated at 4,900 million lbs. in 2011-12 and forecast at 4,900 million lbs. in 2012-13 and at 5,000 million lbs. in 2013-14. Soybean oil use in the production of biodiesel was forecast to rise steadily each year in the rest of the projection period reaching 6,300 million lbs. in 2022-23.

“Soybean oil used to produce methyl esters [biodiesel] in the United States grows to 6.3 billion lbs. by the end of the projection period, representing about 29 percent of total use of US soybean oil and supporting the production of more than 800 million gallons of biodiesel,” the USDA said. “This growth is spurred by the mandate of 1.28 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel use starting in 2013, and by demand for biodiesel to meet a portion of the Renewable Fuel Standard’s advanced biofuel mandate. Corn oil co-products form ethanol plants (including corn oil extracted from distillers grains), other first-use vegetable oils, animal fats and recycled vegetable oils are also used as feed stocks to produce biodiesel.”

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