RBN Energy

Friday, 12/02/2022

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 sulfur 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.

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Daily Energy Blog

Friday, 12/02/2022

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 sulfur 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.

Wednesday, 11/30/2022

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.

Thursday, 11/24/2022

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.

Thursday, 11/17/2022

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.

Wednesday, 11/09/2022

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.

Monday, 11/07/2022

It’s understandable for politicians to want energy markets to bend to their will — especially when it comes to gasoline prices. No one likes spending $60, $70 or $80 to fill up their car, SUV or pickup and, well, drivers are voters. The problem is, there’s no simple way to bring down gas prices, and that puts politicians in a quandary. Faced with public outrage, they feel pressured to respond and, with no easy fix at hand, they strain to develop legislative or regulatory “solutions” that in the end may not solve anything. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the various efforts in the U.S. and overseas to monkey with market mechanisms and rein in the cost of motor fuel.

Monday, 10/31/2022

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.

Thursday, 10/20/2022

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?

Tuesday, 10/11/2022

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.

Monday, 09/19/2022

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.

Thursday, 09/15/2022

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.

Tuesday, 09/13/2022

Refined product markets in the U.S. are constantly morphing. Over time, demand for gasoline and diesel rises or falls, refineries are shut down, and the price spread between products sold in neighboring regions widens or narrows. These changes can incentivize refiners and marketers to push into new areas — and encourage midstream companies to develop pipeline capacity to ease the flow of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel into newly attractive markets. Midstreamers have advanced a number of pipeline projects in the past few months to help move increasing volumes of products west across Texas to the Permian, the Great Plains and into the Rockies. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss these projects and what’s been driving their development.

Wednesday, 09/07/2022

The thinking behind Next Wave Energy Partners’ late-2019 decision to build a first-of-its-kind ethylene-to-alkylate plant was that a combination of NGL production growth and new ethylene supply — plus increasing demand for alkylate, an octane-boosting gasoline blendstock — would be a win-win-win for ethylene producers, refiners and Next Wave itself. Now, with construction of the plant along the Houston Ship Channel approaching the homestretch, things are shaking out very much as the company had anticipated — even better, in fact. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the progress being made on Next Wave’s Project Traveler plant and the market forces validating the company’s final investment decision (FID).

Monday, 09/05/2022

Since the century turned, there’s been a big buildup in refining capacity in the U.S. Midwest, primarily to process the increasing volumes of heavy sour crude being piped in from Western Canada. Over the same period, refining capacity in the Mid-Atlantic region has declined by more than half, mostly for economic reasons — including the lack of pipeline access to favorably priced U.S. shale oil — but also due to events, such as the devastating June 2019 fire at Philadelphia Energy Solutions’ 330-Mb/d refinery in Philadelphia, which led the facility’s owner to shut it down. In addition to spurring more refined product imports to the Mid-Atlantic and increased flows to the region on Colonial Pipeline, the changing market dynamics prompted a push to increase pipeline flows of gasoline and diesel east from the Midwest to markets in Pennsylvania and beyond. In today’s RBN blog, we continue a review of the U.S.’s still-morphing refined product pipeline networks with a look at recently added capacity from PADD 2 to PADD 1.

Sunday, 08/14/2022

The cost of gasoline has garnered a lot of headlines since the start of 2022, with the blame for elevated prices falling on seemingly everything and everyone, from the Biden administration’s policies on oil exploration to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as decisions by major U.S. producers and OPEC not to swiftly boost oil production. Another can't-be-ignored culprit is the loss of significant U.S. refining capacity over the last few years, which has limited the ability of refiners to respond to the strong, post-COVID demand recovery by ramping up production. By and large, the refineries still operating have been running flat out. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the state of global refining, where new capacity is likely to be built, and the headwinds to future investment.