Iowa’s ethanol production set new record in 2023, group says

Annual ethanol production in Iowa reached a new peak last year of 4.6 billion gallons, according to data compiled by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

“Given relatively stable ethanol demand over the last few years, it was a pleasant surprise to crunch the numbers and find Iowa ethanol producers again increased production,” said Monte Shaw, the association’s executive director.

Last year’s estimated production continued a modest, upward trend in recent years at the state’s 42 ethanol plants. Total production was 4.4 billion gallons in 2021 and 4.5 billion in 2022.

Those figures are substantially higher than the production levels of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic led to a dramatic decrease in the demand for fuel. Ethanol that is blended with gasoline is the dominant fuel for passenger vehicles in the United States. In 2020, the state’s ethanol plants produced about 3.7 billion gallons.

Demand for Iowa ethanol has the potential to increase in future years if restrictions on the summertime sales of E15 — a gasoline blend that is 15% ethanol — are permanently lifted, Shaw said.

“We also have the opportunity to unlock a new market, sustainable aviation fuel, that can drive massive biofuels growth for the next three decades,” he said.

Reducing the carbon dioxide emissions that result from ethanol production is important to reach that market, and 25 ethanol plants intend to connect to a sprawling carbon dioxide pipeline system that is under consideration by state regulators.

Capturing and sequestering the greenhouse gas at the ethanol plants would result in their fuels being classified as “low carbon.” That would also enable those producers to sell to low-carbon fuel markets domestically and abroad.

More than half of the corn Iowa farmers produce is used to make ethanol each year.

The association also reported that the state’s biodiesel production last year held roughly steady at about 350 million gallons. Most of that fuel is made from soybean oil.

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