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Repsol and PLD Space to develop renewable rocket fuel

Repsol and PLD Space to develop renewable rocket fuel
Researchers conducting tests in Repsol Technology Lab (photo courtesy Repsol).

In Spain, multi-energy major Repsol S.A. and compatriot PLD Space, a leading European company in the micro-launcher industry, have signed a pioneering collaboration agreement to jointly develop renewable rocket fuels for micro-launchers.

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Based in Elche, Alicante and with technical facilities in Teruel, Huelva, and French Guiana, PLD Space is developing two reusable micro-launchers, the suborbital MIURA 1 and orbital MIURA 5, intended to provide commercial launch services to customers worldwide.

PLD Space has already raised more than EUR 45 million in investment to boost its space sector project.

The firm is a benchmark in Europe in the development of reusable rockets and places Spain among the small number of countries with the capacity to successfully send small satellites into space.

We were the first company in Europe to publicly commit to the recovery of its micro-launchers as proof of its commitment to the environment. We want to continue researching all the alternatives that allow us to reduce our carbon footprint, also in propulsion, said Raúl Verdú, CBDO, and Co-founder of PLD Space.

Develop renewable rocket fuel

The agreement with Repsol includes both feasibility studies to replace current rocket fuels with others produced with sustainable raw materials, as well as the design of new renewable rocket fuels.

Called TEPREL, PLD Space’s current family of liquid-fueled engines is powered by kerosene and liquid oxygen (KeroLOX).

For MIURA 1, the firm currently uses Jet-A1 fuel, the fuel commonly used in aviation, while the propellant – a combination of fuel and the comburent, which is usually oxygen – planned for MIURA 5 is RP-1, which is the standard fuel for rocket engines.

One of the challenges of the project is to maintain the same level of performance as the MIURA micro-launchers. Our responsibility is to maintain vehicle performance while minimizing its environmental impact, explained Francesco Spalletta, Propulsion Manager at PLD Space.

Repsol will formulate the new fuels from renewable or recycled raw materials, specifically, from advanced biofuels made from waste as raw material or using synthetic fuels that are produced from renewable hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2) removed from the atmosphere.

These will be tailor-made in the Repsol Technology Lab for the rocket propellants and manufactured by PLD Space, specifically for the MIURA recoverable micro-launchers.

In this way, a reduction of the carbon footprint of up to 90 percent, or even more is achievable.

Javier Aríztegui, Repsol’s Senior Product Design Manager at Repsol Technology Lab, sees this project as “a great opportunity”.

Repsol will apply the deep knowledge it has acquired over the years in the formulation of all types of fuels, including racing fuels, to develop a sustainable fuel for space vehicles. It is a challenge and we feel prepared to face it successfully, Javier Aríztegui said.

With this agreement, the two companies are revolutionizing the future of rocket fuels while making progress toward the European Union’s goal of climate neutrality by 2050.

Renewable fuels, an integral solution

Repsol has been manufacturing biofuels at its industrial complexes for years. They are produced from sustainable vegetable oils, biomass, agricultural and forestry waste, and used cooking oils (UCO), among others.

According to Repsol, biofuels, together with synthetic fuels, are a sustainable option and are one of the main solutions for reducing transport emissions in the coming years.

They can be used in existing vehicles without the need for any modifications to engines or existing distribution and refueling infrastructures, and are suitable for all transport segments, especially in sectors such as aviation, shipping, and heavy road transport, where electrification is not a viable alternative at present.

Cartagena to start up in 2023

During the first half of 2023, Repsol will start up Spain’s first advanced biofuels plant in Cartagena.

At full capacity, it will manufacture 250 000 tonnes per annum of advanced biofuels from waste.

The multi-energy company is also making progress on its synthetic fuels plant in Bilbao, which will start production in the demonstration phase in 2024.

These plants play a key role in Repsol’s goal of reaching a production capacity of 1.3 million tonnes of renewable fuels in 2025 and more than 2 million tonnes in 2030, thus leading this market in the Iberian Peninsula and moving decisively towards zero net emissions in 2050.

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