To bring ethanol buyers from around the globe together with U.S. suppliers in a time when business continues but crossing borders poses many challenges, the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) co-sponsored the Virtual Ethanol Buyers Conference (VEBC) on Sept. 23.
The goal of the event was to put buyers and sellers into the same space to develop relationships and learn more about why U.S. ethanol offers value, particularly following disruptions to the global agricultural and energy sectors from COVID-19. The educational conference included more than 200 ethanol buyers from 38 countries – comprised of members from the three organizations. Attendees also participated in one-on-one meetings arranged as part of the event.
“The pandemic gripping the world and the resulting absence of travel has allowed us to reflect on the potential opportunities to bring about environmental change,” said Ryan LeGrand, USGC president and CEO, in his opening remarks. “As cars around the world sat parked, we had the opportunity to remember what it means to breathe cleaner air in our towns and cities. As our world begins to return to a state of normalcy, ethanol continues to have the ability to assist in furthering these positive environmental changes and to provide numerous other benefits.”
Juan Sacoto, IHS Markit senior vice president and head of agribusiness consulting for North America, shared his take on the impacts COVID-19 has had on U.S. and global fuel and ethanol markets, saying that while there have been negative impacts, both the global gasoline and ethanol markets are recovering.
“Real-world GDP is projected to fall 5.5% in 2020 – its steepest decline since 1946 – as a result of COVID-19. While global gasoline consumption declined significantly due to COVID-19, it has started to recover,” Sacoto said. “Ethanol companies have been moving faster to become a refiner of things such as high-protein feed and hand sanitizer. A more rapid recovery depends on COVID-19 containment. While demand is likely to bounce back in 2021, it will remain lower due to broader structural factors.
“It may seem that all news is negative – that this difficult time will delay ethanol growth – but it is also pushing the industry to find new ways to sustain growth and expansion.”
Sacoto shared that while COVID-19 has aided long-term decline in liquid fuel demand and that long-term threats like electric cars seem to be suffering less during the pandemic than the broader car market, there are still positive signs that U.S. ethanol is on the road to recovery. The possibility of E15 in the U.S., other countries’ changing environmental policies, diversification of the U.S. ethanol industry and worldwide sustainability and decarbonization initiatives show new potential for U.S. ethanol.
RFA General Counsel Ed Hubbard and Growth Energy’s Senior Vice President of Global Markets Craig Willis addressed U.S. ethanol availability and supply for global markets before heading into a question-and-answer session with Brian Healy, USGC director of global ethanol market development.
After the Global Ethanol Summit last October, through its global footprint, the Council has continued its work to expand awareness globally about ethanol and develop industry contacts. A primary component of the conference was one-to-one business meetings both buyers and sellers initiated through an online platform. These meetings established new and enhanced relationships within the sector to facilitate global trade.
The meeting was split into two sessions – one in the morning that was repeated in the evening – to accommodate attendees from all time zones. In addition, the virtual event included a trade show component in which participants could meet directly with USGC members to learn about their unique marketing practices and global availability of ethanol.
“The ethanol industry is transforming and there is a bright future for it in many areas,” Sacoto said. “COVID-19 presents a significant challenge to the U.S., but we see the economics of ethanol improving more and more. The demand for ethanol is growing.”
About The U.S. Grains Council
The U.S. Grains Council develops export markets for U.S. barley, corn, sorghum and related products including distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) and ethanol. With full-time presence in 28 locations, the Council operates programs in more than 50 countries and the European Union. The Council believes exports are vital to global economic development and to U.S. agriculture’s profitability. Detailed information about the Council and its programs is online at www.grains.org.