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Today in Energy

March 9, 2020

EIA projects U.S. biofuel production to slowly increase through 2050

U.S. production of selected biofuels in AEO2020 Reference case
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2020

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2020 (AEO2020) projects that U.S. biofuel production will slowly grow through 2050, primarily driven by economic and policy factors. In the Reference case, which reflects current laws and regulations, biofuels production in 2050 is 18% higher than 2019 levels. However, in a side case with higher global crude oil prices, biofuels such as fuel ethanol and biodiesel are increasingly consumed as substitutes for petroleum products, resulting in 55% growth in biofuels production in 2050 in that case.

In 2019, U.S. biofuels consumption totaled 1.09 million barrels per day and accounted for 7.3% of total motor gasoline, distillate, and jet fuel consumption. Fuel ethanol is the largest component of U.S. biofuels. In the AEO2020 Reference case, ethanol production slowly decreases between 2019 and 2030, and then it increases toward the end of the projection period, largely mirroring the Reference case projection for motor gasoline consumption.

The projected decline in domestic ethanol-blended gasoline consumption is offset by increasing U.S. ethanol exports. From 2019 to the end of the projection period, domestic production of biodiesel and other biofuels increases by 30,000 barrels/day (b/d) and 80,000 b/d, respectively. Although not included in the AEO2020 projections, the biodiesel blender’s tax credit, renewed in December 2019, is expected to increase domestic production and net imports of biomass-based diesel.

biofuel domestic consumption and share of gasoline, distillate, and jet fuel
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2020

Biofuels consumption growth is supported by a projected decline in consumption of liquid fuels by the U.S. transportation sector, rising oil prices, and regulations such as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). In the AEO2020 Reference case, biofuels represent a relatively small but growing share of the domestic gasoline, distillate, and jet fuel market. The percentage of biofuels blended into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel is expected to increase from 7.3% in 2019 to a high of 9.0% in 2040 before slightly declining through 2050.

The AEO2020 High Oil Price case assumes greater levels of foreign demand for U.S.-produced biofuels than in the Reference case. Higher prices for transportation fuels make biofuels more price competitive with petroleum-based fuels. EIA projects both U.S. biofuels consumption and the share of biofuels consumption to rise at a substantially higher rate than in the Reference case. In this scenario, domestic biofuels consumption increases to 1.62 million b/d, or a 13.5% biofuels share, in 2050.

In the AEO2020 Low Oil Price case, domestic biofuel consumption remains similar to the Reference case. EIA projects low oil prices contribute to a decrease in domestic consumption of biomass-based diesel (biodiesel and renewable diesel). Total biofuel consumption increases slightly as low gasoline prices result in greater amounts of domestically produced fuel ethanol to be blended into motor gasoline. Demand for biofuels is supported by regulations such as the RFS and California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard when prices of petroleum products are low and biofuels are less economically competitive.

Principal contributors: Estella Shi, Steve Hanson