COVID-19 outbreak impacts U.S. biofuel industry

Photo by photolibrarian, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | March 20th, 2020

As the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak has cut down on Americans’ travel, many transportation industries, including producers of biofuels, are hurting. Earlier this week, the airline industry asked for over $50 billion in assistance from the federal government. 

As fuel demand has fallen, many U.S. ethanol plants have lowered fuel production or idled entirely. Renewable Fuels Association Chief Executive Geoff Cooper called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to grant small refineries waivers from the nation’s biofuel mandates. 

The industry employs about 350,000 workers at roughly 200 plants across the country, which produce just over 1 million barrels of ethanol per day. 44 of those plants are in Iowa, which leads the nation in ethanol production, creating nearly 30% of the nation’s ethanol. Margins on ethanol refining in the Corn Belt fell to as low as -11 cents on the gallon earlier in March, and had risen to 10 cents on the gallon as of Thursday, March 19th.

Some ethanol producers have tried to shift focus. Hand sanitizer, which has recently seen a surge in demand, can be made using ethanol.

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