AgriCensus Report

Brazil output of corn-based ethanol to hit 1.4bn litres in 2019: USDA

Brazil’s production of corn-based ethanol will rise 75% this year as new capacity comes onstream and domestic demand surges as the country prepares to roll out its RenovaBio mandate program, the USDA said in a report late Monday.

Most of Brazil’s ethanol production is derived from sugar cane and is a significant exporter to the US and Europe, but its output includes a growing share of corn as that segment generates much better returns than the ailing sugar cane sector.

The USDA said total ethanol output from corn this year is estimated at 1.4 billion litres, an increase of 609 million litres compared with 2018.

The US government researchers noted that there are currently 10 plants producing ethanol from corn in Brazil in the states of Mato Grosso and Goias.

It added that four plants under construction that should start operations in the next 1-2 years and cited figures from the country’s Corn Ethanol National Union (UNEM) that the Latin American nation is forecast to produce 2.6 billion litres of corn ethanol in 2020 and 8 billion litres by 2028.

Brazil’s overall production of fuel ethanol is expected to rise 4% this year as the world’s second-largest producer of the biofuel finalises rules and trading mechanisms for its mandate programme and prepares to step up exports, the USDA said.

The research said Brazil’s total ethanol production for 2019 is estimated at 34.45 billion litres, an increase of 4% compared with the revised figure for 2018.

Brazil’s consumption of fuel ethanol is expected to rise to 31.75 billion litres in 2019, up 7% from 29.7 billion litres last year, as “steady and strong demand for hydrated ethanol at the pump is pushed by continued high gasoline prices in the majority of the Brazilian states,” the USDA said.

The researchers added that decisions made by Brazilian consumers are usually made on the basis of the ratio between hydrous ethanol and gasoline prices.

“The 70% ratio between hydrous ethanol and gasoline prices is the rule of thumb in determining whether flex car owners choose to fill up with hydrous ethanol (price ratio below 70%) or gasoline (price ratio above 70%),” the USDA said.

It added: “This decision is tied to the energy content of each fuel and the fact that ethanol’s energy content is approximately 36% lower than pure fossil gasoline.”

International trade

The USDA’s Sao Paulo-based research team said Brazil’s total ethanol exports are estimated to be 1.8 billion litres this year, up 11% compared with total exports in 2018, which totalled 1.62 billion litres.

“In spite of the competition to supply domestic demand, exports have benefited from windows of opportunity opened by spikes in US ethanol prices,” the USDA said.

Brazil’s total ethanol imports for 2019 are estimated to be 1.2 billion litres, a decrease of 495 million litres relative to the previous year.

The Latin American nation’s imports of ethanol are for fuel use only and originate almost entirely from the US, the research pointed out.

The USDA estimated that Brazil’s production of soybean-based biodiesel, which is estimated at 5.8 billion litres, would rise 8% relative to 2018, based on an estimated 0.8% growth rate for the Brazilian economy in 2019 and the increase of the biodiesel blend to 11% (B11) next month.

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