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USGC searches for new US ethanol outlets in India

A U.S. Grains Council delegation recently traveled to India to meet with marketing companies, Indian ethanol producers, ethanol importers and farmers.

India Us Corn Usgc
U.S. Grains Council (USGC)

A three-person delegation recently visited India from the U.S. to search for new outlets for exports to the fifth-largest market for U.S. ethanol during the 2022/23 marketing year.

The team was comprised of Mark Heckman, ethanol services director at Eco Engineers, Brian Hutchens, director of trading at Valero Renewables, and Mackenzie Boubin, director of global ethanol export development at the U.S. Grains Council (USGC). The group was accompanied by USGC staff from its newest global office situated in New Delhi.

The delegation spent time meeting with oil marketing companies (OMCs), Indian ethanol producers, ethanol importers and farmers. During the mission, the team provided support to the Indian industry in its biofuels initiatives, as well as uncovering potential to increase distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) adoption in animal feeds.

Currently, India accounts for 3% of global ethanol production, but they have shown signs of becoming a world leader in ethanol production and inclusion. At the recent G20 meeting, India spearheaded the Global Biofuels Alliance (GBA) in conjunction with the U.S. and Brazil. The GBA was then fortified by 16 other countries, creating a coalition for technology and experiential sharing that can allow for ethanol’s benefits to be shared with the globe.

“The council stands in full support of the Indian government’s initiatives to achieve an E20 blend by 2025/26 and to increase that blend in the years after,” said Reece H. Cannady, USGC regional director for South Asia. “We believe they are setting a great example for the globe as they push toward their biofuel goals.”

As India makes its push for an E20 fuel blend by 2025/26, there is growing concern among Indian industry that there is a feedstock shortage which could lead to difficulties in achieving the recently approved blend mandates. Current blend rates are said to be at 12 percent, and the government is hopeful to achieve a 15 percent blend rate by 2024/25, with the remaining quantities necessary to reach E20 to be added the following year. The team put forth solutions to Indian stakeholders to help fill potential shortages the market is facing.

The solutions presented by the team included a two-tiered procurement system, which involves using ethanol imports as a filler for any shortfall in domestic production, as well as advocating for access to the global corn market for ethanol feedstock imports. India has a strict ban on genetically modified (GM) corn imports and production, and non-GM corn must come in on quotas granted by the government.

Using corn as a feedstock in India's biofuel

Ethanol in India has historically been produced from sugarcane and molasses, due to India’s position as the world’s largest sugar producer. The push to E20 has Indian investors looking to corn as a feedstock to ramp up production, and with new ethanol inputs comes a steep learning curve to maximize profitability, while also potentially endangering India’s strong poultry and industrial starch processing sectors.

“There is no doubt that India will eventually reach its goals and be self-sufficient in ethanol production, but what is not understood is when that will happen,” Cannady said. “All corn processors, no matter their industry, are at a precarious time, and solutions must be provided via technology transfer and trade.”

DDGS sales from corn-based ethanol producers in India have been difficult and it has impacted profitability. USGC has long been advocating for DDGS use as an excellent dairy feedstock that can improve Indian milk yields, which are among the lowest in the world. Helping Indian ethanol producers and farmers is a win-win for U.S. farmers and agribusiness.

“Corn-based ethanol in India is a relatively new phenomenon and the investment we are seeing in the space is strong,” Cannady said. “What we found when meeting with corn-based ethanol producers is there are opportunities to help them become increasingly profitable and shrink India’s corn pile while also advocating for trade, both of which will lead to benefits for U.S. farmers.”

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