A total of 95% fuel ethanol deliveries between regions in the USA in the first half of the year was made by rail, according to a report in the US Energy Information Agency (EIA)’s Petroleum Supply Monthly.

The majority of US fuel ethanol – 94% – is produced produced in the Midwest, according to the 18 October report, although most of it is consumed in other regions.

“In the first half of 2022, nearly all fuel ethanol delivered by rail (97%) originated in the Midwest. Rail accounted for 96% of the Midwest’s fuel ethanol deliveries to the East Coast and 90% of deliveries to the Gulf Coast. All fuel ethanol deliveries to the Rocky Mountain and West Coast regions were transported from the Midwest by rail. These percentages have held relatively steady since 2010, the earliest data on record,” the report said.

Unlike primary energy commodities - such as coal, petroleum liquids and natural gas, which can be transported by pipeline, barge, rail or truck - fuel ethanol can corrode steel pipelines and is mainly transported by rail, barge or truck.

Fuel ethanol delivery by barge and tanker is limited to pick-up and delivery locations along coastal and navigable inland waterways while the Jones Act requires all goods transported between two US ports to be transported by US-flagged ships, built domestically, and owned and crewed by US citizens, according to the report.

Transport by truck is generally limited to distances of a few hundred kilometres and is used primarily as the final mode of transport. For these reasons, the report said rail had historically accounted for nearly all of the fuel ethanol movements across regions.

Fuel ethanol is transported to blending terminals by rail, while gasoline arrives by pipeline. Once in the terminal, the two fuels are blended into finished petrol, which is then transported to petrol stations in tanker trucks.

Almost all petrol currently in the USA is about 10% fuel ethanol by volume (E10), according to the report.

Fuel ethanol helps finished petrol meet requirements for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which sets annual targets for the quantity of renewable fuels required to enter into the US fuel supply, and for oxygenated and reformulated gasoline.