WASHINGTON, Mar. 22, 2017 - In 2016, the U.S. exported more than 1 billion gallons (68,000 barrels per day) of fuel ethanol, an increase of 26 percent from 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The nation remained a net exporter of fuel ethanol for the seventh consecutive year, the data show, exporting ethanol to 34 different countries. Asian and South American markets received the highest volumes.

In the U.S., ethanol is primarily used as a blending component in the production of motor gasoline, mainly blended in volumes up to 10 percent ethanol (E10).

Corn is the primary feedstock. Large corn harvests have contributed to the increases in ethanol production in recent years, EIA notes.

USDA estimates that U.S. farmers produced a record 15.1 billion bushels of corn in 2016, 11 percent more than the previous harvest.

U.S. ethanol production reached a record level of 15 billion gallons in 2016 (equivalent to about 1 million barrels per day), the agency says.

EIA chart - ethanol exportsVolumes of domestic production beyond those used in U.S. ethanol blending were exported in 2016, mainly to countries with ethanol mandates and to those that use ethanol to increase octane levels, EIA notes.

Last year, Brazil surpassed Canada as the top destination for U.S. fuel ethanol exports, receiving 267 million gallons, EIA says.

Brazil is one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of fuel ethanol, the agency notes, but unlike the U.S., Brazil’s main ethanol feedstock is sugarcane. Relatively high global sugar prices during 2016 encouraged more sugar production over sugarcane ethanol production.

Corn ethanol exports to Brazil were further encouraged by Brazil’s 27 percent fuel ethanol mandate and its zero import tariff for ethanol, EIA says, which will remain in place through the end of 2021.

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In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts that net exports of ethanol will increase by 6 percent more than 2016 levels to reach 1.2 billion gallons in 2017, potentially matching or exceeding the record level set in 2011.

In 2016, U.S. imports of ethanol, which EIA notes are “relatively much smaller,” decreased by 60 percent, some 36 million gallons.

Most imported ethanol went to the West Coast region, EIA says, most likely for compliance with California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) Program, which uses scoring rules that count sugarcane ethanol as a fuel with a much lower carbon content than corn ethanol.