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Japan policy shift allows imports of ETBE made from US corn-based ethanol; increased carbon-intensity requirement

The Japanese government’s new biofuel policy will allow imports of ETBE (Ethyl Tert-Butyl Ether) made from US corn-based ethanol.

ETBE is an oxygenated gasoline fuel component and ether. ETBE, conventionally derived from ethanol (47% v/v) and isobutylene (53% v/v), features properties including high octane, low boiling point and low vapor pressure. These qualities make it a versatile gasoline blending component, allowing refiners to address both their octane and bio-component requirements.

(In 2017, Global Bioenergies announced the production of ETBE purely from renewable resources. Earlier post.)

The change comes as part ofJapan’s update of its existing sustainability policy, approved in 2010, in which only sugarcane-based ethanol was eligible for import and which only allowed sugarcane-based ethanol for the production of ETBE, an oxygenate.

The new policy calls for an increase in the carbon intensity reduction requirements of ethanol used as a feedstock to make ETBE to meet a 55% reduction, up from 50%, and recognizes corn-based, US-produced ethanol’s ability to meet that goal, even with the higher greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction standard.

Japan will now allow US ethanol to meet up to 44% of a total estimated demand of 217 million gallons of ethanol used to make ETBE, or potentially 95.5 million gallons of US-produced ethanol annually. Japan imports nearly all of the ETBE from ethanol that it uses.

This decision by the Japanese government was based on its evaluation and life cycle assessment update of US corn-based ethanol. The US industry’s efforts to maximize production efficiency through technology innovations has led to higher GHG emission reductions for corn-based ethanol. The emergence of co-products such as distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) have supported this new access to the Japanese market while positively contributing to the feed and energy value chains.

US organizations promoting the global use of ethanol will continue to work closely with the Japanese government as it implements its new policy and provide updated technical information about GHG reductions and other benefits of corn-based ethanol.

We are pleased Japan now allows ETBE imports from US. corn-based ethanol, as this opens an important and growing market for American farmers. ETBE is an ethanol-based oxygenate frequently used in overseas markets. Japanese consumers will now have access to cleaner, cheaper, American high-octane fuels. We look forward to beginning a dialogue on how Japan’s new policy could be improved, such as moving towards direct blending rather than having to convert our ethanol into an ether like ETBE. But we certainly welcome Japan’s first step toward the use of US ethanol.Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen


  • USDA GAIN report: Japan to accept US corn ethanol in bio-ETBE


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