Tuesday, September 5, 2023
The European Union's sustainable mobility strategy calls for minimizing CO2 (and other greenhouse gas) emissions to achieve a 55% reduction by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050. For heavy transport - especially in the maritime and aviation sectors, as well as for trucks - where effective electrification is more difficult to achieve, the European Commission 's Fit for 55 package proposes to focus on greener fuels and specifically mentions biofuels.
Until now, organic matter from agricultural crops was used to produce them, thus avoiding the use of fossil fuels. These are known as first generation biofuels. However, research into biofuels has advanced considerably in recent years and second-generation biofuels are already being produced using organic waste, such as used cooking oils, agricultural or livestock waste, or forest biomass, among others. This twist in the script not only results in sustainable fuels, but also contributes to the so-called circular economy.
The key to using biofuels to decarbonize heavy transport lies in the fact that they do not require any type of technological change in the vehicles that use them, since their molecule is practically indistinguishable from that of a fossil fuel. Only a thorough carbon 14 test would allow us to appreciate the nuances, since their chemical composition and properties are analogous. This similarity in the chemical nature of both products allows the substitution of one fuel for the other, reducing CO2 emissions by up to 90%, without the need for engine modifications and without altering the distribution infrastructure.
Due to these characteristics, biofuels would allow for the rapid decarbonization of all sectors, especially those that are very difficult to electrify due to their complexity and timeframe, such as heavy road, sea and air transport. They are a strong alternative to oil and gas and also contribute to the diversification of energy sources. This aspect is important from the point of view of the European continent's energy autonomy and independence, where Spain could become one of the main producers, with a direct effect on job creation and economic boost.
What is their current penetration rate?
Biofuels have been penetrating the aforementioned sectors for years, albeit to different degrees. An example of this is road transport, where cars and trucks have been using a percentage of this type of fuel for years by law. Currently, there is an obligation to incorporate 10.5% biofuels, blended with gasoline or diesel, a figure that will increase in the coming years to reach 12% in 2026.
For maritime, air and even rail transport - there are still train lines in Spain that have not been electrified and run on traditional diesel - the percentage varies. In the case of aircraft, some flights already use sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and, in fact, the aforementioned European regulation will require that by 2025 the amount of SAF used must be at least 2%. The figure will rise in the coming decades to reach a minimum of 70% by mid-century.
Collaboration between the transport and energy sectors is essential to achieving the objectives set. An example of this is the case of Cepsa, a company that has carried out various tests in heavy transport and, in particular, has launched initiatives to promote the decarbonization of the air sector. Thus, since last July, it has been marketing SAF at four of the main Spanish airports: Madrid, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca and Seville. These infrastructures handle more than 133 million passengers a year, or 55% of air traffic. With this initiative, the energy company becomes the first to offer biofuel for aviation on a regular basis.
In the maritime sector, biofuels are not only being used for freight transport, but also for passenger transport, with experiences such as those carried out in Spain, where they have been used for the first time in ferries.
Although experts say that, at present, demand still exceeds supply in all these sectors, production will increase and prices will become more competitive as the use of biofuels becomes more widespread. According to Javier Antúnez, Cepsa's Biofuels Director, the goal is to "scale up manufacturing to reach a production capacity of 2.5 million tons of biofuels by 2030." That is, in less than seven years. In this way, decarbonization will gradually become a reality.
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