Updated on Wednesday, August 25, 2021 – 01:32
In order to reverse the effects of climate change and pollution, biofuels seek to be the alternative to the still expensive electric car
The Bilbao synthetic fuel plant THE WORLD
The future has never been without change, and the Recovery and Resilience Plan and the European Next Generation funds imply a series of deep and agile transformations that will fundamentally change the way we move; or rather, in which what we move with is propelled. We are not talking only about scooters, cars, motorcycles or electrically powered trains, but also about bionaphtha, biojet, hydro-biodiesel, biopropane … That is, biofuels.
“When we talk about net zero emission fuels, we are talking about bio fuels, which are produced from waste,” he explains. Javier Arztegui, Senior Manager of Product Design and Energy Systems at Repsol. In order to reverse the effects of climate change and the harmful effects of pollution, biofuels are presented as an alternative to the (still expensive) electric car and Spain is on track to lead that market. “The idea is to gradually substituting fossil fuels for renewable fuels that limit greenhouse gas emissions without generating a drastic change for the user,” says Arztegui.
Thus, what the manager is referring to is that all this new range of new fuels will be “completely compatible as far as possible” with current cars, so that the vehicles will not have to undergo any type of change in its structure to be able to use it. “The current situation is that all vehicles are consuming biofuels in a minority percentage because they are mixed with fossil fuels,” says Arztegui.
However, the idea is for that to go further. Repsol wants to be a net zero emissions company by 2050, and the European Union, too. “In the transport sector, the objective is to reduce net CO2 emissions to the atmosphere by 90%,” he says.
For Aristegui, what justifies this tendency to decarbonize fuels is not purely an order from European legislation in view of climate change, but rather that “there are users who demand it” in addition to fleets of vehicles, such as Bilbobus, Bilbao’s urban public transport service, which already operates on these fuels. For the manager, the immense investment in R + D + I that places biofuel on the market has an origin: “it is the end user himself who has asked for this type of product to exist”.
Following this line, in October 2020, the company announced the investment of 188 million euros to build in Cartagena, the first advanced biofuel plant in Spain made from waste. The new facility will manufacture 250,000 tons of advanced fuels per year that will serve to propel cars, trucks and airplanes. The company’s bet is that this plant reduces 900,000 tons of CO2 every year. In addition, “increase the production of sustainable biofuels to 1.3 million tons in 2025 and reach 2 million tons in 2030,” they point out.
When we talk about decarbonization we talk about CO2. Biofuels have net CO2 emissions far below that of fossil fuels, since either the raw materials used in their production is captured CO2 already present in the air, or the emission of CO2 by reusing waste is avoided. of vegetable or animal origin. Through this formula, production becomes a circular economy cycle that reuses waste to be transformed into biofuels.
Thus, current legislation establishes that these must provide a net reduction of these emissions greater than 50% for biofuels produced in existing manufacturing plants prior to October 2015. In the case of plants that began operations between October 2015 and December 2020, the minimum reduction must be 60%, while all those fuels produced in plants that start operating in 2021 must have a minimum reduction of 65%.
Soon the non-fossil fuel industry will be full of options for consumers. One of them, although not yet developed for commercial use, is synthetic fuels. This is another family of fuels where CO2 from the Petronor company’s chemical processes and renewable hydrogen are taken directly to synthesize fuels that are very chemically similar to gasoline. Thus, Repsol will build one of the world’s largest synthetic fuel plants in Bilbao, with a project worth 60 million euros.
For this plant, Petronor, Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest energy company and the Basque Energy Agency (EVE) have joined forces.
Biofuels vs electric car, a matter of taste or price?
Electric mobility and biofuels have their advantages and disadvantages. The electric car is a great option to move in a decarbonized way, but today, its acquisition is clearly more expensive than a gasoline vehicle. In addition to that for Arztegui it has another drawback: “It does not allow many kilometers a day, so, for now, it may be a great option for urban areas but not for those who need to travel long distances.” On the other hand, due to their similarity to fossil fuels, biofuels will provide that possibility.
However, analysts assure that in the near future, the costs of one and the other will be similar. From a cost point of view, basically the total operating cost for the user is very similar on the electric route and on the biofuel route. But what will be the cost of energy? For Arztegui, if we exclude taxes, since they “distort the comparison”, the costs are also similar. For the manager, “it is not a question of competition, but of complementarity. Both options allow decarbonization and each will have both advantages and disadvantages.”
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