Major oil companies’ efforts in the ethanol sector will continue to grow in coming years, driven by government mandates, a desire to diversify and promising returns on investment in the sector.
Once perceived as reluctant to enter the ethanol arena, oil players have broken cover in the past year.
At F.O. Licht’s World Ethanol 2010, which will see more than 40 speakers address a global audience of more than 450 people, Luis Scoffone, vice president of Shell Alternative Energies, James Primrose, head of strategy at BP Biofuels, and Robert Gmyrek of PKN Orlen will explain why oil majors are aggressively expanding in the sector and will continue to do so in coming years.
As part of a wave of consolidation in Brazil’s cane sector, Royal Dutch Shell joined with one of the country’s leading players, Cosan, in a $12bn move. State-oil company Petrobras bought a share of the French-owned group, Tereos, and this week entered a deal with Sao Martinho to expand production. Another household name, BP, has said that it plans to be producing 100m tonnes of cane in a few years’ time at its own and associated factories.
This brings a completely new dynamic to the Brazilian cane industry, which in the past has been built around hundreds of companies, many of which were family owned. Further consolidation is expected and oil companies will play a key part in this. Brazil has traditionally balanced the local market and exports, sugar production with ethanol production. The question is, how will this change in coming years?
In the US the ethanol industry is preparing for decisive political battles. In September a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency on higher ethanol blends is due. This will greatly influence the demand dynamics of the world’s biggest ethanol consumer. Moreover, Congress has to extend tax breaks for ethanol as well as the import tariff both of which expire by the end of the year. Margo Oge of the EPA at F.O. Licht’s World Ethanol conference will discuss what role ethanol will play in making the transportation sector more sustainable.
In the EU, national strategies are dictating how oil companies respond to the challenge of how to introduce biofuels into the mainstream fuel supply. With National Action Plans due out this year on how countries will meet the goal of sourcing 10% of transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020 under the Renewable Energy Directive, the foundations for even more rapid growth are being laid. Ron van Erck from the European Commission will for the first time be giving an overview of the results of the national action plans at F.O. Licht’s World Ethanol 2010 conference.
After two difficult years some optimism has returned to the industry. The sector has been doing its homework – costs have been cut, sustainability issues are being addressed, surplus capacity, although still substantial, is being reduced. ‘Today’s ethanol industry is in a much better state than in 2008 when it was on the defensive politically and financially’, remarks Christoph Berg, Managing Director of F.O.Licht. ‘There is no clearer sign of the re-established self-confidence than the expectation that, for the first time ever, the global industry is likely to produce more than 100 bln litres of ethanol in 2010, a rise of 12% on the year’, he added.