Refined Fuels

Refinery distillation units separate crude oil into light, medium and heavy fractions. After that, refiners start performing chemical reactions using catalysts — materials that accelerate chemical reactions — to change the oil’s natural molecules into the forms needed in modern fuels. In recent years, refiners have stepped up their efforts to recycle those catalysts to improve their profitability and environmental performance. In today’s RBN blog, we explain how catalysts, which were formerly disposed of as hazardous waste, are increasingly being recycled and reused in refineries. 

The March appropriations bill passed by Congress and signed by President Biden to fund the federal government mandated the emptying of the federal gasoline reserve in fiscal year 2024, which concludes September 30, followed by its eventual closure. That means about 1 MMbbl — 42 MM gallons — of gasoline will find its way to the market in the next few months, or in as little as a few weeks. The Department of Energy (DOE) is planning to distribute those barrels by the end of June to help keep a lid on gasoline prices ahead of the July 4 holiday and into the heart of the summer driving season. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the decision to close the reserve and the potential impact of those barrels hitting the market. 

The federal Renewable Identification Number (RIN) and California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) have long served as tools to force renewable fuels like ethanol into the U.S. fuel supply. They are environmental credits that subsidize production of renewable fuels that would not otherwise be economically justified. Nuances embedded in the design of these credit systems have again kicked in to surprise the markets, this time with a hit to renewable diesel (RD) margins. Today’s RBN blog zeroes in on two root causes for that hit. 

How can a business survive and thrive while spending $5.30 to make a product that sells for $1.90? That’s what’s happening in the booming renewable diesel (RD) market, where government subsidies allow RD to compete directly with petroleum diesel even though RD is inherently more costly to produce. But as new plants keep coming on stream, RD profit margins are coming under closer scrutiny. In today’s RBN blog, we analyze RD profit margins and show how they are changing as the market continues to expand. 

The new 650-Mb/d Dangote refinery in Nigeria instantly became Africa’s largest and the world’s seventh-largest by capacity when it finally began processing crude into diesel and aviation fuels in January after years of delays and cost overruns. Long touted as Nigeria’s ticket to ending refined fuels imports by supplying its own markets — with plenty to spare for exports — the Dangote facility could substantially impact trade flows and global supply if it lives up to years of homegrown ballyhoo. In today’s RBN blog, we will examine Dangote’s long road to production, and why we see a slow ramp-up to full capacity through 2026. 

The boom in renewable diesel (RD) production has triggered a race to secure the dozen different bio-feedstocks suitable for refining into diesel fuel. It’s an interesting story that impacts both the oil and agriculture industries, with twists and turns that will take years to play out. In today's RBN blog, we describe the current state of the market and highlight recent happenings in supply chains for two of those increasingly important bio-feedstocks — soybean oil and used cooking oil. 

One of the most anticipated and potentially impactful refinery startups in North America in years is the Dos Bocas project (officially the Olmeca Refinery), a 340 Mb/d plant under development by Mexico’s state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) in the southeastern state of Tabasco. The project was seen as the cornerstone of Pemex’s plans to reduce Mexico’s dependence on the U.S. for refined fuels. Construction began in 2019 with startup originally scheduled for 2022, but that timeline was never really feasible, and the Mexican government has issued multiple public statements since mid-2023 proclaiming that construction was complete and startup was imminent. However, almost a year has passed and there is no indication that any meaningful operations have occurred. So how close is Dos Bocas to startup and, more importantly, full (or close to full) production? In today’s RBN blog, we’ll provide our views on those vitally important questions. 

The Biden administration recently announced a very ambitious — to say the least — rule on tailpipe emissions. But while the rule’s legal and political standing might be a bit uncertain — it’s seen by many as a de facto ban on conventionally fueled cars and trucks and is likely to face several court challenges — doubts also remain about whether it matches up with the realities of today’s energy world. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the new rule, what it would mean for U.S. consumers and automakers, and how it conflicts with the views of RBN’s Refined Fuels Analytics (RFA) practice on the future of global oil and refined products demand and the rate of electric vehicle (EV) adoption. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a request by governors from eight Corn Belt states to remove a summertime waiver for Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) included in the Clean Air Act (CAA) for E10 gasoline, a 90/10 blend of petroleum-derived gasoline blendstock and ethanol. The motive for the governors’ request was a desire to increase sales of E15 gasoline and, by extension, boost ethanol/corn demand by putting it on the same summertime footing as E10. In granting the approval, the EPA conceded that the distribution system wasn’t ready for the change. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the decision and the impact it will have on refiners, retailers and drivers, and how it is likely to work against the Biden administration’s plans to keep a lid on gasoline prices. 

There’s always a risk when you take a new approach to doing or making something that your expectations won’t pan out — that something you hadn’t figured on happens and messes things up. But oh, the satisfaction that comes when the stars align exactly as you foresaw. The folks who developed Project Traveler, a recently completed Houston-area plant that produces high-value, octane-boosting alkylate from ethylene, isobutane and other widely available and low-cost feedstocks, know that good feeling, as we discuss in today’s RBN blog on the project’s economics. 

Around the world, a lot of smart people in the public and private sectors hold similar views on where we’re all headed, energy-wise. An accelerating shift to renewables and electric vehicles, driven by climate concerns. A not-so-far-away peak in global demand for refined products like gasoline and diesel. There are also what you might call consensus opinions on some energy-industry nuances, like how much global refining capacity will be operational in 2025 and what the spread between light and heavy crude oil will be in the years ahead. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from the new Future of Fuels report by RBN’s Refined Fuels Analytics (RFA) practice, including RFA’s different take on a few matters large and small — and all of critical concern to producers, refiners and marketers alike. 

Fresh on the heels of expanding its Beaumont, TX, refinery into the largest in the country, ExxonMobil announced in January that it had finished yet another project at its century-old Baton Rouge complex in Louisiana. The Baton Rouge Refinery Integrated Competitiveness (BRRIC) project took roughly three years to complete and did not add crude refining capacity, unlike the Beaumont project. Instead, the goal of the $240 million investment was to modernize the crude oil processing plant — the state’s largest — increasing access to competitive crudes and growing markets for its fuels as well as curbing the refinery’s environmental impact. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at the BRRIC project and what it means for the Baton Rouge refinery. 

When the price of the Tier 3 sulfur credit hit a new high of $3,600 in October 2023, the tradable sulfur credit for gasoline moved from the background to center stage in refining circles. And while credit prices have retreated slightly to about $3,400, they still represent a nearly 10-fold increase over two years and translate to a Tier 3 compliance cost of almost $3/bbl, raising concerns from refiners in a highly competitive market. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how refiners are adapting and the investments that could reduce the cost of compliance. 

The price of the Tier 3 gasoline sulfur credit hit $3,600 in October, up by a factor of 10 since 2022 and roughly in line with the all-time high reached in 2019. The high price of this important credit is a direct indicator of the true cost of compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Tier 3 gasoline sulfur standard and has raised some alarm recently in refining and financial circles. In today’s RBN blog, we give some specific examples of how refiners and investment analysts are reacting. 

Renewable diesel (RD) production has been surging this year, far surpassing blending mandates established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But there may be storm clouds on the horizon. The jump in RD production has led to excess generation of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), the tool used to ensure compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), impacting RD economics. With RD production set to move even higher in 2024 amid already-declining margins, it has left some to wonder how the market will come back into balance. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the growth in RD production, the resulting impact on RIN volumes and prices, and how things could shake out next year.