Colombia eyes higher ethanol blends in gasoline
Thursday, May 25, 2017
The start-up of commercial operations at Colombia’s largest ethanol plant will allow the blend of the biofuel in gasoline to be raised to 10% by year-end, senior official at biofuels federation Fedebiocombustibles told NewsBase Intelligence (NBI).

Existing ethanol blending mandates in Colombia, which are tightly controlled by the government, stand at 8% (E8) in the central Antioquia department and 6% (E6) for the rest of the country, although three eastern departments that border Venezuela are excluded from mandates amid ongoing problems with smuggling. Despite the 8% requirement, the country is currently unable to produce enough to meet the mandate.

The country’s biofuels industry, however, believes there is scope for higher blends nationwide once Bioenergy’s El Alcaravan ethanol plant in central Meta department begins commercial operations. The 504,000 litre per day facility, which will mainly supply Colombia’s strategic central region, produced its first batch of ethanol in March.

“Ethanol output by the end of 2017 will be such that the blend with gasoline can be raised to 10%,” said the official, who asked not to be named because of federation policy. “With good strategies and legal stability, these blends could be even higher.”

According to Bogota-based Fedebiocombustibles, Colombia has six existing ethanol production plants owned by some of the country’s biggest sugarcane producers, including Riopaila-Castilla, Mayaguez and Manuelita. Colombia, the third largest ethanol producer in Latin America after Brazil and Argentina, produced some 456 million litres of the biofuel in 2015, up from 406 million litres in 2014 and 388 million litres in 2013.

Estimates quoted by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest that ethanol consumption was around 482 million litres in 2016, with projected consumption in 2017 to reach 570 million litres thanks to the higher mandate.

Bioenergy, a unit of state-controlled oil and gas producer Ecopetrol, will be the first company in Colombia to produce ethanol at a dedicated plant. “We’re currently working on the stabilisation process that will allow us to gradually increase production to 504,000 litres per day,” a Bioenergy spokeswoman told NBI. She declined to provide a more precise timeframe for the ramp-up of operations.

At full capacity, the US$350 million facility will also generate 35 MWh of energy per year: some 16 MWh will be consumed by the plant, while the remaining 19 MWh will supply local markets through a turbogenerator connected to the national grid.

Ecopetrol, which recently announced plans to raise biofuels production dramatically by 2020, also has a 50% stake in Ecodiesel, one of ten biodiesel companies operating in Colombia. Ecodiesel has a capacity to produce some 120,000 tpy of biodiesel from refined palm oil feedstock at a plant at the Barrancabermeja refinery complex, also in Meta department.

According to Fedebiocombustibles, mandates in Colombia for biodiesel content in diesel fuel range from 0% to 10% across the country, and the USDA notes that production is forecast to rise to 700 million litres in 2017, up from 580 million litres in 2016.

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