Since 2019, more than 1.3 MMb/d of U.S. refinery capacity has been either shut down for economic reasons or converted to renewable diesel production. The decline in the nation’s ability to produce gasoline and diesel hampered the refining sector’s response to the post-COVID demand recovery and exacerbated the big run-up in motor fuel prices that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February. Now, there may be a new threat to U.S. refining, namely the possibility that a proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule on hydrofluoric-acid-based alkylation could, over time, spur an even larger round of refinery closures. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our look at alkylate — a critically important part of the U.S. gasoline pool — the prospective regulation and its possible effects.
As we bid adieu to 2022, it’s once again time for the Top 10 RBN Energy Prognostications, our long-standing tradition where we look into our crystal ball to see what the upcoming year has in store for energy markets. And unlike many forecasters, we also look into the rearview mirror to see how we did with last year’s predictions. Ouch. No, we did not predict a lingering, hot war in Europe in 2022, and that had a variety of ramifications for our scorecard this time around. Even so, we actually feel pretty good about those market calls. Most turned out to be spot-on, and for the others, well, it’s informative just to see what we thought was going to happen in 2022, pre-Ukraine. Then tomorrow we’ll take on the challenge of predicting the energy markets of 2023. But today it’s time to look back. Back to what we posted on January 2, 2022.
Well, you might say energy markets got smacked upside the head in 2022. After a decade of energy abundance, a meltdown in demand in 2020, and what looked like a budding recovery in 2021, energy security had devolved into a back-burner issue. After all, why worry about existing fuel sources when they would soon be replaced by waves of renewable and sustainable fuels? Then, literally overnight, the world changed on February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine. Prior assumptions about energy security were out the window. Suddenly, the availability, source of production and, of course, the price of traditional energy were front-and-center. In fact, those priorities swiftly overshadowed energy-transition goals. We could see that shift in focus every day at RBN by monitoring the website hit rate of our blogs to see which ones garnered the most interest. This year, all of the top blogs were in some way tied to energy security. So today we dive into our Top 10 blogs based on the number of rbnenergy.com website hits to see how energy security has permeated all aspects of energy markets.
It could be argued that no sector in the energy industry has seen more uncertainty the past three years than refining. In rapid succession, it experienced a historic collapse in demand, a shaky recovery, a run-up in crude oil and other feedstock prices, the disruption in Russian supply, and the wrath of the public and politicians alike when gasoline and diesel prices rocketed higher earlier this year. Prices at the pump may have sagged in recent months, but don’t think for a second that refining has reverted to anything resembling stability and normalcy — refiners still face a host of challenges and unknowns. For starters, what’s ahead for crack spreads, which have been spiking up and down lately? How quickly will electric vehicles (EVs) undermine demand for traditional motor fuels? And what about renewable diesel? New environmental regulations? More refinery closures? In today’s RBN blog, we look at the long list of challenges domestic and international refiners will face through the rest of the 2020s.
A potentially important factor affecting the supply of octane — the primary yardstick of gasoline quality and price — has been lurking in the background over the last few years. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Tier 3 gasoline sulfur standard applies to all refiners and importers who deliver gasoline to the U.S. market, and while delayed compliance requirements and the onset of the pandemic have blunted its full impact to refiners and consumers so far, the implications of meeting the new standard are beginning to take shape. In today’s RBN blog, we explain how the Tier 3 specs are linked to octane supply, where octane destruction comes into play, and how refiners are adapting to the octane-sulfur squeeze.
Alkylate is an important and valuable part of the U.S. gasoline pool, prized for its high octane, low volatility and low sulfur content. There are two primary catalysts that refiners can opt to use in the production of alkylate: hydrofluoric acid, or HF, and sulfuric acid, or H2SO4. Each is quite popular, with HF and sulfuric acid technologies each representing about half of domestic alkylation capacity — and with those shares varying significantly on a regional basis. While refiners have been safely operating both types of “alky” units for many decades, HF alkylation for some time has been in the crosshairs of the Environmental Protection Agency, which recently proposed that refiners be required to undertake extensive evaluations of potentially safer alternative technologies. It’s hard to know for sure, but if EPA’s proposed rule is made final it could ultimately force many refineries to make very costly changes — into the hundreds of million dollars per unit — or maybe even shut down entirely. In today’s RBN blog, we look at alkylate, how it’s made, and the potentially profound effects of the impending regulation.
The Renewable Identification Number, or RIN, market is so misunderstood that even its main participants don’t agree on its financial impact, effectiveness, or even basic fairness. RINs are a feature of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires renewable fuels like ethanol and bio-based diesel to be blended into fuels sold in the U.S. And depending on your point of view — trader, farmer, refiner, blender, consumer, politician — you may have a very different perspective about how the system works. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report that attempts to make sense of the complexities of the RINs market.
The U.S. market for distillates has been crazy the past few months — especially in PADD 1 — and given all that’s going on, it’s likely to stay that way for months to come. Inventories of ultra-low-sulfur diesel, heating oil and other distillates are at their lowest levels for this time of year since before the EIA started tracking them 40 years ago and diesel prices are in the stratosphere, all despite diesel crack spreads being in record-high territory — a strong incentive for refineries to churn out more distillate. In the encore edition of today’s RBN blog, we discuss the many factors affecting distillate supply, demand, inventories and prices and take a look ahead at where the market may be headed next.
While we’ve seen up-and-down spikes in stock market indices, cryptocurrency values and the prices of crude oil and motor fuel in recent years, the price of one important commodity has been quietly but relentlessly rocketing higher — octane, the primary yardstick of gasoline quality and price. The steady rise in octane prices is tied in part to the fundamental change in how octane is valued, with the retail market now being impacted more by demand than production costs. In today’s RBN blog, we look at why octane prices have climbed over the past decade and what market factors are limiting its supply.
The dramatic increase in the price of the D6 Renewable Identification Number a decade ago was one of the more spectacular moves in the history of major commodity trading. The spike in the price of RINs — the credits used to certify compliance with the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) — was brought on by a sudden uptick in demand and stakeholders who lacked sufficiently deep awareness and understanding of the complex RIN credit system. In today’s RBN blog, we use the story of 2013’s “Big Bang” in D6 RIN prices to explain the fundamental mechanism that determines RIN prices, consider whether such a price shock could occur again, and discuss what stakeholders can do to prepare.
The U.S. market for distillates has been crazy the past few months — especially in PADD 1 — and given all that’s going on, it’s likely to stay that way for months to come. Inventories of ultra-low-sulfur diesel, heating oil and other distillates are at their lowest levels for this time of year since before the EIA started tracking them 40 years ago and diesel prices are in the stratosphere, all despite diesel crack spreads being in record-high territory — a strong incentive for refineries to churn out more distillate. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the many factors affecting distillate supply, demand, inventories and prices and take a look ahead at where the market may be headed next.
Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) are credits used to certify compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires certain minimum volumes of biofuels to be blended into fuels sold in the U.S. There are many types of fuels covered by the RFS and so RIN credits come in different categories. One category, the D6 RIN, applies to the blending of corn-based ethanol into refined gasoline to make the gasoline-ethanol blends we pump into our cars, SUVs and pickups. In 2013, the D6 RIN price skyrocketed 100-fold in one of the most extreme cases of panic buying in any major commodity market in history. In today’s RBN blog, we examine that event and address three key questions: How did it happen, what was the solution, and why does it matter today?
In these uncertain times, with the energy transition in flux and a recession looming, it takes moxie for a company to make a major capital investment in an energy-related project, especially one that could arguably be called the first of its kind. But that’s what’s happening at a site along the Houston Ship Channel (HSC) in Pasadena, TX, where Next Wave Energy Partners, which is now completing an ethylene-to-alkylate plant, is planning an adjoining ethanol-to-ethylene facility that will enable the company to produce bioethylene, renewable alkylate and/or sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), depending on market demand, production economics and other factors. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the ins and outs of Next Wave’s Project Lightning.
The high cost of gasoline and diesel and their impact on inflation and the global economy has been a major market development this year, with the blame typically being cast on politicians, oil producers and policies intended to limit development of traditional energy resources and encourage decarbonization — and sometimes all of the above. Prices have retreated in recent weeks amid lower consumer demand and worries about the state of the global economy, but long-term concerns about global refining capacity and the possibility of another price spike remain. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on the state of global refining.
What has been the most controversial topic in the U.S. refining industry over the last 10 years? Well, it’s a matter of opinion but, judging from time spent in earnings conference calls, law offices, courtrooms, congressional committees, the White House, and other forums of business and political debate, Renewable Identification Numbers — or RINs — would have to be a top contender for that prize. In today’s RBN blog and the final episode of this series, we consider two differing viewpoints on the effects of the RIN system and specific disagreements — or are they misunderstandings? — about the financial consequences of RINs that have dominated the debates and legal cases.