WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — A recent trade team mission to the U.S., organized by the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), offered South Korean decision-makers the information they need to help the country take full advantage of ethanol’s benefits.
“Fuel ethanol would benefit South Korea’s economy and environment, but the nation currently lacks a national blend mandate,” the USGC said.
South Korea currently uses roughly 140 million gallons of ethanol each year, but only for beverage and industrial uses. Of that amount, about 100 million gallons are imported from the United States, Brazil and Pakistan.
According to USGC, South Korea imported 69 million gallons of U.S. ethanol in 2017-18 (September 2017 to July 2018) for these industrial uses, but potential demand could be even greater for fuel ethanol. The association noted that South Korea’s government has not yet pursued such a national fuel standard, despite official recognition by the Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy of the necessity of adopting such a policy following successful feasibility studies and trials.
“Because a national ethanol blending mandate would rely solely on imports, the government has not put a priority on developing a policy, despite the many advantages that doing so could provide the Korean fuel industry,” said Haksoo Kim, USGC director in Korea, who accompanied the team. “Nevertheless, the government needs to find solutions to fulfill commitments under the Paris climate agreement and address serious environmental issues related to ultra-fine particles.”
USGC is working with stakeholders and government officials in South Korea to address concerns related to supply chain consistency, food versus fuel myths, and current reliance on MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether) as an oxygenate. Given groundwater contamination potential and air quality issues (particularly in metropolitan areas) from MTBE use, ethanol-blended fuel would provide South Koreans with a safer, and more environmentally-friendly, alternative oxygenate.
The recent USGC trade team is one part of those efforts, which also include in-country bioethanol conferences and workshops to foster continued discussions between Korean stakeholders on how to implement a national ethanol policy. The diverse 11-member team included researchers, buyers, policy advisors from government research organizations and energy media in addition to representatives from the ethanol, petroleum refining and energy industries.
The team visited Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., and Chicago, Illinois, U.S., to learn about the success of ethanol in the United States, bioethanol policy and the economic and environmental benefits of bioethanol. Their visit included stops at U.S. fuel ethanol policy agencies, ethanol plants, state corn organizations, corn farms, and the operations of fuel ethanol blenders, distributors and exporters. Team members asked questions on a variety of topics from crop rotation to ethanol plant efficiency, newer breeding methods for corn and ethanol quality testing and compliance.
“This program provided team members the opportunity to see firsthand the benefits of fuel ethanol and the necessity of introducing bioethanol policies in South Korea,” Kim said. “By fully understanding the economic and environmental benefits of fuel ethanol, these team members will create an environment in South Korea supportive of introducing a national bioethanol policy in the near future.”