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Repsol: Renewable fuels are key to the transformation of the refining industry

Along with hydrogen production, the production of renewable fuels and gases from organic waste is one of the main examples of the transformation of the industry, which will generate employment and decarbonize the sector. Here, Repsol discusses several pathways the company is taking to produce additional renewable fuels, while decarbonizing operations.

The use of renewable fuels in transportation plays a key role in driving the reduction of transportation emissions. Today, the sector is adapting its facilities to be able to process different types of raw materials used in their manufacture, from used cooking oils to organic waste from agriculture, livestock farming, or the agri-food industry. "Its production implies a transformation that will provide continuity and sustainability to the refining industry, which generates more than 200,000 direct jobs", says Berta Cabello, director of Renewable Fuels at Repsol.

“One of the advantages of these fuels is that they can be used in existing vehicles (cars, trucks, buses, buses, ships, or airplanes) without the need to make changes to the engines and taking advantage of existing refueling infrastructures,” explains Cabello, which makes them “a solution that makes it possible to start reducing emissions immediately.” According to FuelsForEurope, the association of fuel producers, some 20 renewable fuel plants are currently under construction on the continent, which will produce > 7 MMtpy by 2030.

One of the first projects of these characteristics in Spain is Repsol's advanced biofuels plant in Cartagena, in which some 1,000 people have participated in its construction and start-up. The start of production "will enable new sectors to be included in the refining value chain", says Cabello, such as the companies that collect, transport, and purify the used cooking oil used as a raw material. The Port of Cartagena will receive 300,000 tpy of waste, which, in addition to increasing maritime traffic, has meant the construction of unloading and reception infrastructures in the port area.

Most of the plant's production will be destined for aviation, a sector that in the coming years will have to progressively increase the use of these renewable fuels in its engines to meet the targets set by the EU. According to a study by the consultancy firm PwC for Iberia and Vueling, if between 30 and 40 production plants were installed throughout the country, Spain would be able to cover its entire national demand for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The impact on GDP of the construction and commissioning of these production plants would be €56 B by 2050, which would represent the creation of 270,000 new jobs.

Biomethane to create jobs in rural areas. Organic waste is already being used to produce fuels, but also renewable gases such as biomethane, which can be injected into the current gas network and used as a substitute for natural gas in industries and homes. Among the raw materials that can be used to produce biomethane are agricultural and livestock wastes, which in Spain could produce enough biomethane to cover 45% of the current demand for natural gas, according to the Spanish Gas Association, Sedigas.

The transformation of this waste into biomethane will involve the creation of a new value chain linked to the circular economy, the first links of which will be the collection of waste and its treatment in plants to be built in rural areas, close to the farms where it is generated. Sedigas believes that Spain has enough waste to start up more than 2,000 plants, which would create some 60,000 jobs.

Renewable hydrogen, an opportunity for all types of profiles. Renewable hydrogen, which does not generate CO2 emissions if manufactured with wind or photovoltaic energy, is another solution that can contribute to reducing the economy's emissions. Spain has a technologically advanced industry, which, in the medium and long term, would allow it to produce and consume a large amount of this sustainable gas, which could even be exported to its European partners.

The production target for 2030 proposed in the update of the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) has risen from 4 GW to 11 GW in three years. If the many planned investments materialize, the Spanish Hydrogen Association estimates that 227,000 jobs will be created in this decade. "If we do a simple search on LinkedIn for 'hydrogen jobs Spain', more than 1,000 job offers appear," says its president, Javier Brey, to illustrate the demand for professionals in a field with various employment opportunities, since this sustainable gas will be used in industry as well as in the residential and transport sectors. And it is not only industrial employment. Banks, insurance companies, and consulting firms are already recruiting people to participate in renewable hydrogen projects.

The development of this new energy vector will offer job opportunities not only for those who enter the labor market. It will also be an opportunity for "many people who are working in related sectors to retrain and migrate to hydrogen. For example, those who manufacture or install natural gas or propane pipelines will certainly learn how to assemble and maintain the pipelines for the hydrogen network with its specific technical characteristics. As in any business that is being deployed, continuous training of workers is going to be essential.” 


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