Synthetic fuels as an ‘Eco’ alternative

patxi fernandez

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The European Commission has proposed through the ‘Regulation of efficiency standards for light vehicles’ the prohibition of the commercialization of combustion engines from the year 2035. A measure that has been criticized by the group of associations linked to transport and mobility . A total of 15 Spanish entities have indicated that this measure will especially affect the lowest incomes, for which they have requested a “more accessible and inclusive” energy transition.

To this end, they have suggested eco-fuels and synthetic fuels (low or neutral carbon liquid fuels) as an alternative that allows immediate and massive reduction in CO2 emissions due to their compatibility with the existing fleet and infrastructure.

Synthetic fuels are made from hydrogen and CO2 removed from the atmosphere. For its preparation, electricity from renewable sources is used and through electrolysis, the oxygen and hydrogen are separated from the water, giving rise to renewable hydrogen. Energy companies and automobile manufacturers such as Porsche, Audi or Mazda defend this alternative. According to his calculations, it allows the emissions of a thermal car to be reduced by up to 90% during its use, while at the same time avoiding the pollution generated by producing a new vehicle and its corresponding battery.

As for ecofuels, they are neutral liquid fuels or low in CO2 emissions produced from urban, agricultural or forestry waste, from plastics to used oils. They are not made with petroleum.

Spain has one of the largest refining capacity in Europe and those refineries that today produce fuels of fossil origin, such as gasoline or diesel, can also produce eco-fuels of non-fossil origin that can be used in practically all the vehicles that circulate today through our streets and highways. Precisely on March 9, construction work began in Cartagena on the first advanced biofuel plant in Spain, in which Repsol will invest 200 million euros. The plant will have the capacity to produce 250,000 tons per year of advanced biofuels such as biodiesel, biojet, bionaphtha and biopropane, which can be used in planes, ships, trucks or cars, and will reduce 900,000 tons of CO2 per year. This is an amount similar to the CO2 that a forest the size of 180,000 football fields would absorb.

Today when we refuel our vehicle at a gas station, we are already putting 10% of these products in our tanks, although we are not aware of it, and for each percentage point that we increase we would save 800,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year .

energy dependency

According Victor Garcia Nebreda, general secretary of the Madrid Service Station Employers Association (Aeescam), eco-fuels could considerably reduce our dependence on foreign energy. From his point of view «the raw material is here and the refining industry too, but it is essential that the EU and Spain create legal certainty to undertake the large necessary investments and, above all, that technologies in benefit of others”.

Nebreda argues that the objective is to reach 2050 with a balance of net emissions of 0. This does not only mean “that CO2 is not emitted through the exhaust pipe, it means that the entire cycle, from the well to the wheel, of a net balance 0”. In this sense, he explains that although the electric vehicle does not produce emissions in the exhaust pipe, “it does when the batteries are manufactured and depending on how the electricity is generated, it can be even more polluting.”

Ecofuels can make a fundamental contribution to achieving these objectives since “the principle of technological neutrality is basic and it would be inexcusable not to allow the development of everything that allows us to achieve the desired objectives,” he concludes.

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