Shell is Taking Aim at U.S. Ethanol Market
By Steve Gelsi
February 1, 2010
While a weak sugar harvest this year in Brazil may put a damper on ethanol exports, Royal Dutch Shell is taking aim both at the U.S. and European markets in its new joint venture with sugar giant Cosan.
Royal Dutch Shell executive Mike Williams said the oil major hopes to increase output from its Cosan joint venture to more than a billion gallons of ethanol a year, from about 500 million gallons now.
The sugar-based fuel could then be shipped to the U.S. or Europe, Williams said.
The new joint venture announced Monday would also target 792 million gallons of ethanol to the domestic Brazilian market.
“Our intention is to grow this business into a worldwide opportunity,” Williams said, according to a report by Dow Jones Newswires.
The prospects of more Brazilian ethanol in the U.S. hit a sore point with lobbying groups that support domestic supplies, already suffering from slack demand for car fuels.
Any imports into the U.S. would face an import tariff of 54 cents a gallon. Taking the sting out the cost, however, is a blenders tax credit of 45 cents a gallon offered to distributors who mix gasoline with ethanol.
Christopher Thorne, a spokesman with pro-U.S. ethanol group Growth Energy, said Brazil has been pushing to get the country’s sugar-based ethanol reclassified as an advanced biofuel to help circumvent the existing tariff.
Sugar futures touched a 29-year high of 30.4 cents a pound on Monday, before falling back, on expectations of a weak harvest after heavy rains.
Plinio Nastari, president of Brazilian consultancy Datagro, told Reuters that fungal disease is expected to hurt sugar output.
“This is the perfect illustration of why it makes no sense to become dependent on any foreign source of energy — whether it’s Middle East oil or Brazilian sugarcane ethanol,” the group said. “Between high sugar prices and a sugarcane crop shortage, Brazil can’t meet its own ethanol needs — let alone the ethanol needs of the United States.”
The U.S. imported about 12 million gallons of Brazilian ethanol in November, according to the Renewable Fuels Association,
“Brazil is having a supply issue themselves, and may be ready to import U.S. ethanol despite the 25% tariff Brazil puts on imports of ethanol,” said Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association.