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Renewable fuels. What are they and what are their advantages | let’s rethink

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Although still largely unknown, renewable fuels are similar to conventional fuels in many ways: they can be used in today’s vehicles with the same reliability, offer similar performance and the pumps which serves them the same. Here the similarities end and the differences begin. The main one is that they are made with renewable raw materials, such as used vegetable oils, waste from the agri-food industry or renewable hydrogen. In addition, they fulfill their function without adding more CO₂ to the atmosphere. As the Spanish Association of Petroleum Products Operators (AOP) explains, the carbon they emit in their combustion is equal to what was previously achieved in their manufacture. Therefore, the carbon footprint of these fuels is zero.

These fuels are not a chimera, experts say. The distribution and refueling infrastructures are the same as those for conventional fuels. In fact, they are already present in every service station and in the engines of current cars. Today, gasoline and diesel by law contain more than 10% renewable fuel, an amount that should increase to 12% in 2026. For every percentage point of renewable added to a fuel, according to the AOP, the emission of 800,000 tonnes of CO₂ is avoided. the atmosphere, a reduction equivalent to registering 400,000 electric vehicles.

Javier Gil, director of the Biomass department at CENER (National Center for Renewable Energy), analyzes the potential of organic waste, the main source from which renewable fuels are currently used: “In Spain, according to a study by the Institute for Diversification and Energy To spare, the production potential of lignocellulosic raw materials — what is called biomass, dry vegetable matter — would be equivalent to about 12 million tons of oil. Considering that energy consumption in transport in Spain is about 30 million tons of oil equivalent, to cover this demand it will be necessary to combine electric mobility with the use of renewable fuels”.

We will see an increased percentage of renewable fuels in the current mixes “until we reach 100%”, the AOP considers: “There is already an initiative to market fully renewable fuel at service stations in our country.” Repsol has already launched three projects in Madrid, Barcelona and Lisbon (Portugal), which currently supply these fuels only to trucks.

To increase production, the sector is investing in new plants: “It is important that there are clear regulations that look at renewable fuels as a complementary alternative to electrification, and that provide certainty and give the appropriate signals to the investments required for their development”, declares the AOP. In addition, the widespread use of these fuels will result, in the words of Ion Arocena, general director of the Association of Spanish Biotechnology Companies, in economies of scale that produce “lowering costs”.

Renewable fuels are another option to make all transport segments more sustainable, especially those that are difficult to electrify, experts say, such as heavy passenger and cargo transport by road, sea or air. In this last area, companies such as Iberia have already made long-distance flights using sustainable fuel, such as those that connected the Spanish capital last summer with the North American cities of Washington, Dallas and San Francisco. Javier Aríztegui, expert on renewable fuels at Repsol Technology Lab, explains that the European regulation is already aimed at decarbonizing all transport segments, but he warns that we must start now: “If we do not have plans to start on the 2035 horizon. -2040, to produce the tools to decarbonise, we will probably not achieve the 2050 targets.”

These tools, like renewable fuels and electrification, can go hand in hand: “We strongly believe in technological neutrality. Let the end user choose what best suits his needs”, understands Aríztegui. These fuels will also help to reduce Spain’s and Europe’s energy dependence, the AOP points out, “since indigenous raw materials are used in their production, unlike oil or vital minerals needed to power electric batteries manufacture”.

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