The US exported the second highest volume of petroleum coke ever in April, according to US Energy Information Administration data.
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The EIA April data, released Friday, show exports of 17.78 million barrels, second only to December 2011, 20.44 million barrels.
The US exported a record 184.17 million barrels of petroleum coke in 2012, a record up over 20 million barrels compared to 2010, per the EIA.
Petroleum coke is a byproduct of coking, a process that takes very heavy oil and produces gasoil (a precursor to diesel or vacuum gasoil) and naphtha. The coke is used as a fuel for power plant, in a kiln in the production of concrete or, for some specialty grades, in the production of aluminum or other metals.
China was the largest recipient of US petroleum coke in April, taking 3.20 million barrels, its third highest volume, after December 2011's 4.93 million barrels and January 2013's 3.64 million barrels.
Mexico was second, importing 1.76 million barrels, followed by Japan, 1.74 million. Canada imported 1.67 million barrels, putting it fourth, up from only 659,000 barrels in March.
India, Turkey, Spain, Italy and others are all significant importers.
The US added substantially to its coking production capacity in 2012. Motiva in Port Arthur went from a 59,500 b/d capacity to 154,500 b/d, and Marathon, Detroit increased from 29,500 b/d to 55,000 b/d.
Other major recent expansions include 65,000 b/d unit at the Wood River Refinery, completed in November 2011, and the 52,500 b/d unit at Total in Port Arthur, which came on in March 2011. BP in Whiting, Illinois, will bring on stream a 102,000 b/d coker sometime before the end of 2013.
Coker economics have improved over the past five years, Platts data suggests.
One proxy for coker profitability is the spread of No. 2 oil (the product of coking) compared to US Gulf Coast 3%S residual fuel (the proxy for coker feedstock); this differential is databased by Platts.
On Friday, the spread of No. 2 oil over 3%S residual fuel was $25.41/b. Over the past five years it has averaged $23.55/b, but in the past 12 months the average is $28.50/b.