EIA: US biomass-based diesel imports increased to record levels in 2013; from net exporter to net importer
|Monthly US biodiesel and renewable diesel imports. Source: EIA. Click to enlarge.|
Total US imports of biomass-based diesel fuel—biodiesel and renewable diesel—reached 525 million gallons in 2013, compared to 61 million gallons in 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). As a result, the United States switched from being a net exporter of biomass-based diesel in 2012 to a net importer in 2013 by a wide margin.
Two principal factors drove the increase in US biodiesel imports, EIA said: growth in domestic biodiesel demand to satisfy renewable fuels targets, and increased access to biodiesel from other countries.
The strongest driver of the resurgence in US biomass-based diesel demand was the increasing Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) target. Both biodiesel and renewable diesel qualify for the biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuel targets, as well as the overall RFS target.
The total RFS target increased from 15.20 billion gallons in 2012 to 16.55 billion gallons in 2013. The biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuels targets increased from 1.00 billion gallons to 1.28 billion gallons, and from 2.00 billion gallons to 2.75 billion gallons, respectively.
Biomass-based diesel fuels have higher energy content compared with ethanol, and thus generate more Renewable Identification Number (RIN) credits per gallon of fuel produced. In addition, renewable diesel meets the same American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards as petroleum diesel, and is thus not subject to the blending limits imposed on biodiesel.
Biomass-based diesel fuels also qualify for the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). The LCFS sets annual carbon intensity (CI) targets for fuel providers, to reduce the carbon content of gasoline and diesel fuels through 2020. Fuels with low CI values generate credits for fuel providers that can offset any deficits that they accumulate from fuels with higher CI values. Depending on the feedstock and the method of production, both biodiesel and renewable diesel have some of the lowest CI values among eligible fuels, and thus are valuable fuels for meeting LCFS targets. (E.g., earlier post.)
Increased domestic biodiesel production only partially offset the effect that increased US biodiesel consumption had on driving up imports.
US biodiesel production reached 1.34 billion gallons in 2013, a 35% increase over 2012, including a record 135 million gallons in December. This increase in production during 2013 was driven in part by favorable blending economics by way of the $1.00 per gallon biodiesel blending tax credit, which expired on 31 December 2013.
Given the elimination of the tax credit, soybean feedstock constraints, and limited renewable biodiesel production capacity, US imports of biomass-based diesel fuels are likely to continue to play an important role in meeting the LCFS and the RFS targets going forward, EIA concluded.
The increase in imports of regular biodiesel were primarily from Argentina, particularly in the final four months (September to December). This likely resulted from a recent European Union anti-dumping duty imposed on biodiesel from Argentine producers in late 2013, EIA suggested. The European Union was previously the destination for most of Argentina’s biodiesel exports.
The remaining volumes of regular biodiesel imports entered the United States on the East Coast (PADD 1) and Gulf Coast (PADD 3) from Indonesia and various European countries.
US renewable diesel imports reached 210 million gallons in 2013, eight times more than in 2012. Just over 77% of total US renewable diesel imports came from Singapore (where Neste Oil produces NExBTL) and entered the United States on the West Coast (PADD 5), likely for California LCFS compliance, EIA said.