WASHINGTON, DC, US — Ethanol production in the United States dropped 11.7% in 2020, while corn use for ethanol dropped 10%, as COVID-19 slowed demand for the renewable fuel.

Year-end data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed US ethanol production fell to 13.93 billion gallons, down 1.85 billion gallons, or 11.7%, from 2019. It was the lowest production level since 2013, said the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

At the same time, corn usage for ethanol dropped 10% from 2019 to 4.78 billion bushels, the US Department of Agriculture said.

EIA data showed that domestic ethanol consumption was down 13.2% from 2019, and the lowest since 2009. Gasoline consumption in the United States was down 13.5%.

The implied ethanol blend rate rose slightly to a record 10.23%, the RFA said. On a monthly basis, the blend rate slumped to 9.05% in April. However, by November and December, the blend rate rose to record highs of 10.78% and 10.81%, respectively, as petroleum prices rebounded.

“While the COVID pandemic, Saudi-Russia oil price war, and trade disputes presented major marketplace obstacles throughout 2020, the US ethanol industry showed its resilience and determination,” said Geoff Cooper, president and chief executive officer of the RFA. “Despite the drop in annual ethanol production and domestic blending, ethanol’s share of the gasoline pool strengthened at the end of the year as RIN prices continued to rebound and the RFS returned to the demand-driving force it was intended to be by Congress. Meanwhile, US ethanol exports were relatively buoyant, especially when export barriers and the impact of the pandemic on global fuel consumption are considered.”

The EIA estimated fuel ethanol exports at 1.34 billion gallons, a decline of 8.5%. Exports were fairly strong to start the year but then were affected by a combination of trade barriers and pandemic-related declines in fuel consumption in key markets.