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Colombian ethanol production rises 7% in 2015: trade group

Bogota — Colombia produced 435 million liters of ethanol in 2015, up 7% from 406 million liters the year before, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Bogota-based trade group Biofuels Federation. The rise was due mostly to the completion in October of the 400,000 liter/day Riopaila plant in southwestern Valle de Cauca province, which boosted Colombia's installed ethanol capacity by roughly 30% to 1.75 million liters/day.

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That in turn allowed Colombia to raise the mandated ethanol content in gasoline to 10% by volume, up from 8%.

But weeks after the completion of the plant, that minimum ethanol requirement was lowered back to 8% due to the closing of the common border with Venezuela to vehicle traffic, a move designed to reduce trafficking of contraband gasoline refined in Venezuela.

The reduced availability of the black market fuel from Venezuela meant that Colombia's largest refiner, state-controlled Ecopetrol, had to step in to supply gasoline in eastern border provinces where consumers had been using the illegally obtained fuels.

In contrast with the black market gas from Venezuela, to which no ethanol had been added, Ecopetrol's domestically produced replacement gallons needed all the added Riopaila capacity in order to meet the 8% ethanol requirement.

Santos Montero said the minimum ethanol requirement would likely go back up to 10% as early as late 2016, if installed ethanol production capacity receives another boost as expected. The long-delayed Bioenergia ethanol plant in eastern Meta province being built by Ecopetrol could add 480,000 liters/day to national capacity when finished.

Another ethanol plant, planned by a Colombia Sweden consortium called GPC, will use manioc plants as an ethanol source. The $100 million facility in eastern Colombia may become operational this year if manioc yields at farms owned by the consortium are deemed economically feasible, Santos Montero said.

At present, all the country's ethanol is produced from sugar cane.

Colombia produced an estimated 615 million liters of biodiesel in 2015, up 4.8% from the 587 million liters produced in 2014. Colombia law requires that all diesel include at least 8% fuel made from oil from the fruit of African palm trees.

--Chris Kraul,
--Edited by Lisa Miller,