Recent news stories have highlighted a sharp rise in U.S. ethanol exports.That’s especially significant as the U.S. domestic market for ethanol approaches a “blending wall” and recent Congressional and legal actions raise questions about the future of E-15 (15% ethanol-85% gasoline motor fuel blends).

Ethanol exports provide a market for ethanol beyond what the domestic market is able to absorb. In this article, we review recent and historical trends in U.S. exports of ethanol, identify major foreign markets, review their stability or lack of it, and provide a perspective on the size of exports relative to domestic production.

Figure 1 shows total U.S. ethanol exports by corn marketing year since1989-90. Exports have fluctuated substantially from year to year. Two of the last three years have traced out record highs in U.S. ethanol exports, but it is too early to determine whether these are the start of a new long-term trend. More insight on that will be available as we examine ethanol exports by country of destination.

The historical year-to-year variability has been due partly to availability of exportable supplies from other countries. Gasoline prices also may have had a small influence on attractiveness of ethanol imports in some countries, although that likely has been only a minor influence.

Exports by Destination

U.S.ethanol exports have at various times over the last 21 years gone to as many as 90 different countries and regions, although many of these have purchased only very small quantities of U.S. ethanol. In addition, many of them have not been consistent markets, but purchased a few thousand gallons and then have been out of the market for many years.

Figure 2 indicates that four countries or regions have accounted for most of U.S.ethanol markets. These are Canada, EU, Brazil, and Mexico. Even these countries have shown large fluctuations in their purchases of U.S.ethanol.

As shown in Figure 2, Brazil was the largest foreign market for U.S. ethanol at times during the early and mid-1990s. After 1996-97,its purchases dropped to very low levels although it purchased some ethanol each year.

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