Gasoline consumed in the United States in 2016 contained more than 10% ethanol on average for the first time ever, according to an analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data released today by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). The EIA data dispels the myth that 10% is the marketplace limit for ethanol content in U.S. gasoline, and demonstrates that the so-called blend wall is not a real constraint on ethanol consumption.
According to EIA data, finished motor gasoline consumption totaled 143.367 billion gallons in 2016. That volume of gasoline contained 14.399 billion gallons of ethanol, meaning the average ethanol content of gasoline consumed in 2016 was 10.04%. According to the RFA report, the data further underscore that statutory Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) blending obligations in excess of the 10.0% level can be readily satisfied by the marketplace. Growing consumption of E15 (gasoline blends containing 15% ethanol), mid-level blends (containing 20-50% ethanol) and flex fuels (containing 51-83% ethanol) was responsible for the increase in the average ethanol content of U.S. gasoline in 2016. The RFA report finds that 2016 consumption of mid-level blends and flex fuels was at least 450 million gallons, and may have been more than 1 billion gallons if the American Petroleum Institutes (API) assertions about ethanol-free gasoline (E0) demand are correct.
A summary of key findings includes:
- National average ethanol content was 10.0% or higher in six of the last seven months of 2016, culminating with a record-high monthly rate of 10.30% in December.
- On a weekly basis, the ethanol blend rate hit a weekly record of 10.41% in early January 2017. These data undermine the assertion by API and others that the gasoline market cannot accommodate more than 9.7% ethanol due to purported infrastructure and vehicle constraints.
- April 2015 was the last time average ethanol content was below 9.7%.
- Using the most conservative assumptions, EIA data imply that 447 million gallons of mid-level blends and flex fuels (containing 313 million gals. of ethanol) were consumed in 2016. However, if API's assumptions about E0 demand are used, then consumption of mid-level blends and flex fuels was 1.2 to 1.7 billion gallons (843 mil. to 1.17 bil. gals. of ethanol).
"EIA's data once again shows that the oil industry's blend wall narrative is bankrupt, intended only to mislead consumers and undermine support for the Renewable Fuel Standard," said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. "The facts provide a different narrative. Ethanol is the lowest cost and cleanest burning source of octane today. Driven by the RFS and attractive blending economics, domestic refiners and blenders used more ethanol in 2016 than ever before and its likely that trend will continue this year. Consumers are gravitating toward E15, E85, and other mid-level blends where they are available. The oil industry can no longer claim the blend wall is any barrier to the effective implementation of the RFS.
"Additionally, with EPA poised to soon issue its proposed 2018 RFS renewable volume obligations, this analysis unequivocally proves the agency needs to implement the 15 billion gallon statutory requirement for conventional biofuel. A strong RFS benefits consumers with cleaner air, greater energy security and a boost to local economies. We look forward to EPA implementing a strong RFS for 2018," Dinneen added.