Spain-headed oil, gas, and multi-energy major, Repsol S.A. (Repsol), begins construction works of the first advanced biofuels plant in Spain at the company’s Cartagena refinery.
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In alignment with its ambition to become a net-zero emissions company by 2050, Repsol is investing EUR 200 million in this project which was first announced in October 2020.
Once fully operational the new unit will enable the supply of 250 000 tonnes per year of advanced biofuels, such as renewable diesel (HVO), sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), bionaphtha, and biopropane to be used in planes, trucks, or cars without the need for modifications of the existing engines.
Call for enabling regulation
Speaking at a project presentation event held on March 7, 2022, at Cartagena, Antonio Brufau, Chairman of Repsol, assured that “with this project, Cartagena is going to consolidate itself as a supply center of fundamental products for the present and for the future, and an example of Repsol’s commitment to sustainable mobility.”
Brufau stressed the importance of committing to technological neutrality to be able to advance toward the goal of achieving zero net emissions by 2050.
He called on public administrations to create “an enabling, facilitating, flexible, and non-exclusive regulation” that will permit the development of future projects, since only in this way ” will we be protecting our economy, industry, and employment”.
Repsol represents a commitment to progress, development, and sustainability. Cartagena and Repsol have grown hand in hand, to a degree that it is not possible to understand the development of Escombreras and its conversion into a global energy hub without Repsol. And now, we the add good news of the construction of the first advanced biofuels plant in Spain, a cutting-edge plant that is a magnificent example of the so-called circular economy, said Fernando López Miras, President of the Regional Government.
The Delegate of the national Government in the Region of Murcia, José Vélez, pointed out that “with the construction of this first advanced biofuels plant, Repsol will once again be one of the major companies in the region, channeling quality employment and powerful investments, placing the region at the forefront of technological development.”
The Mayoress of Cartagena, Noelia Arroyo, considers that “what begins today is another great industrial commitment of Repsol in Cartagena, for the investment it represents, for the employment it generates, and for the activity, it will bring to the Escombreras Valley.”
In addition, she emphasized that “it exemplifies the industrial application of the most avant-garde research in the generation of fuels through recycling.”
Regarding the project, the Director of the refinery of Repsol in Cartagena, Antonio Mestre, highlighted that the new plant “is a tangible example of the circular economy that will allow us to offer sustainable mobility solutions to all sectors of society, and it is a very important step in the transformation of the industrial complex as a multi-energy hub.”
Reach 2 million tonnes by 2020
Repsol has been incorporating biofuels into its automotive fuels for more than two decades. In this next step, advanced biofuels will be produced from different types of waste from the agri-food industry, used cooking oil (UCO), and other suitable waste streams diverted from landfills.
These advanced biofuels are a sustainable solution for all segments of mobility, especially for those that have no other alternative to decarbonize their activity, such as maritime, long-distance haulage, or aviation.
According to Repsol, these renewable fuels can reduce net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 65 – 85 percent compared to the traditional fossil fuels they replace.
Repsol relies on the circular economy, as one of its strategic pillars, to manufacture products with low, zero, or even a negative carbon footprint.
Repsol’s goal is to use three million tonnes of waste per year to produce two million tons of low-carbon fuels by 2030, which Repsol says will mitigate more than seven million tonnes of CO2 per year.
Progress in the construction works
The project is being developed in four different areas covering a surface area of 41,500 m2. Three of these will be located inside the refinery and correspond to the hydrotreating unit, the hydrogen production unit, and the biofuel storage tank area.
The fourth area will be located in the facilities of the Port Authority of Cartagena where Repsol operates. This area will be equipped with the necessary infrastructures for the storage of 300 000 tonnes of different types of waste that will arrive by sea and the subsequent supply to domestic or export markets.
After the previous work of dismantling the disused facilities inside the refinery to house the new units – including the removal of 53 000 m3 of land – work is currently focused on civil works. Specifically, work has already begun on the construction of the tanks that will store the advanced biofuels.
In the areas where the hydrotreatment and hydrogen plants will be located, civil works related to the installation of concrete structures and the placement of racks for the pipelines through which the raw materials and the advanced biofuels will be transported are already underway.
The expansion of the facilities at the Cartagena refinery to allow the building of the new advanced biofuels plant, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, will generate around 1 000 jobs in the different phases of the project and the involvement of 240 auxiliary companies, of which 21 percent will be local, 25 percent regional, 42 percent national, and 12 percent international.
At present, more than 25 contracting companies and approximately 300 people are already working inside the refinery.
This figure will increase to an average of 600 employees, and the peak is expected to be reached next autumn with some 800 direct and indirect workers.
Since the project was launched, Repsol has spent more than EUR 72 million on the preliminary engineering work, commissioning of equipment, and auxiliary company labor.
The Cartagena refinery is one of the main economic engines and generators of employment in the Region of Murcia. Nearly 900 highly qualified people work in the industrial complex in highly specialized positions.
In addition to direct employment, the refinery generates around 400 jobs through contractors on a recurring basis, with this figure rising to 2 000 for specific projects.
A European benchmark refinery
Repsol has invested more than EUR 456 million in the Cartagena industrial complex in the last decade.
This is in addition to the project to expand the refinery that was inaugurated in 2012 by HM King Felipe VI (then Crown Prince), which at the time represented the largest industrial investment made in Spain – EUR 3.2 billion – placing the industrial complex at the technological forefront in its sector.
Today, the Cartagena refinery is an industry benchmark, and it is among the most efficient refinery facilities in Europe. It is facing a transformation that will involve an evolution of its processes to become a multi-energy hub capable of producing a multitude of products with a low, zero, or even a negative carbon footprint.
To do this, Repsol will apply all available technologies, such as renewable hydrogen, circular economy, and carbon capture and use (CCU), and it will rely on additional tools, including digitization and energy efficiency.
In 2021 alone, during maintenance work on the lubricant units and the last scheduled shutdown carried out in the conversion and hydrotreating areas, Repsol invested EUR 31 million in projects to improve the energy efficiency of its facilities in Cartagena.
Stepping up the energy transition
The EU institutions have already outlined a roadmap through a new directive that establishes that, in the transport sector, the share of renewable energies in final energy consumption must be at least 14 percent by 2030.
Of that percentage, by that year at least 3.5 percent must be advanced biofuels. In addition, in July 2021, the European Commission published a new legislative package that proposes to increase the level of ambition for CO2 reductions in 2030 and align it with the goal of achieving climate neutrality in 2050.
The Commission’s “Fit for 55” package focuses on the need to increase the speed of decarbonization of the transport sector. Among other measures, it includes the REfuelEU Aviation initiative, which aims to boost the supply of and demand for sustainable aviation fuels in the EU ̶ including biofuels and advanced biofuels ̶ reaching 2 percent in 2025, 5 percent in 2030, and 63 percent in 2050.
For its part, the Spanish National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) sets an even more demanding target of 28 percent renewable energy in transportation by 2030.
The PNIEC recognizes that biofuels are the most widely available and currently used renewable technology in transportation, especially in sectors such as heavy vehicles, aviation, and maritime, where electrification is currently not possible.
In addition, the Climate Change and Energy Transition Law, approved by the Spanish Congress in May 2021, contains an article dedicated to sustainable alternative fuels in transportation, with special emphasis on advanced biofuels and other fuels of non-biological origin.
Repsol says that it is fully aligned with the initiatives and supports the achievement of these objectives with the construction of the first advanced biofuels plant in Spain and with various other projects that it has underway.
Specifically, the multi-energy company has processed used cooking oil (UCO) for the first time at its refinery in A Coruña to make biodiesel.
At its refineries in Puertollano, Tarragona, and Bilbao, it has produced batches of biojet that have enabled the first flights to be made with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) produced in Spain from waste, together with air carriers Iberia and Vueling respectively.