The well-known children’s game, hot or cold? serves to illustrate the use of biofuels in transport: cold in ships, hot in aviation and warm in cars.

The past and future figures of its strength in road transport invite to consider it as a transition fuel. Its world share in energy terms was 6.75% in 2019, below the mandatory global target set by the EU of 7% (data from the Association of Renewable Energy Companies, APPA). In 2020, according to estimates by the European Commission, it will remain at 9.5%, below the mandatory 10%.

In ten years it only plans to advance 2.68%, the difference between the 9.5% set for 2021 by the Ministry for the Ecological Transition (Miteco) in a royal decree project that it prepares, and the 12.18% that According to department sources, it appears for 2030 in the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) 2021-2030.

“It is the only renewable technology that falls in the PNIEC between 2020 and 2030,” says Manuel Bustos, director of APPA Biofuels. And he adds: “We cannot be happy with these goals. We would like them to be older ”.

Ecologists ask not to use crops to lower the emissions that are generated

“For the transition, yes, for the future in the medium and long term, no.” This is how clearly Joan Ramón Morante, director of the Catalan Energy Research Institute (IREC), expresses himself. “The EU’s commitment to road transport is hydrogen and electricity, not biofuels” because that means staying with consumption of fossil origin, “he explains.

In the present and in the next decade they will continue to be “a very good alternative on the road to diversify, reduce emissions and take advantage of the cars we have, but improved with these fuels,” says Carlos Morales, coordinator of the Master in Environment at Comillas ICAI. The room for improvement is wide. “In 2050, cars are expected to be ready to use 85% biodiesel,” he says.

A path that the consulting firm Capgemini also insists on. Sebastián Asioli, director of energy transition, assures that they are “a reality and will play a decisive role in a fleet of vehicles that will be mixed”. Also, remember the investments that companies are making.

This is the case of Repsol, which will invest 188 million in the construction at its Cartagena refinery of the first advanced biofuel production plant in Spain, with a supply capacity of 250,000 tons per year for airplanes, trucks and cars. the company.

Process of transformation of the raw material into biofuel at the Repsol refinery in Cartagena.

To this must be added the manufacture of the first batch of biofuel for aircraft last August, called biojet. This represents the alternative of a fuel that reduces the carbon footprint in a sector in which there are currently no other solutions.

Many companies use these blends, with a proportion ranging from 10% to 50%. Steven Le Moing, director of aviation biofuels at Airbus, indicates that “we are working with other stakeholders within the sector to get further and make the use of biofuels more important.”

From Boeing, Onofre Andrade, head of aviation biofuels at the R&D center for Europe and Brazil, adds that “it represents an important opportunity not yet taken advantage of to support the long-term sustainable growth of air transport by reducing emissions” .

Ecological impact

Ecologists want the total elimination with immediate effect of palm oil and exclude other raw materials derived from it for the production of advanced biofuels, such as hydrotreated vegetable oils and distilled fatty acids from this plant (HVO and PFAD, for its acronym in English).

“We ask not to use these crops to reduce polluting emissions in transportation. It is more deforestation and less land for food, ”argues Rosalía Suley, spokesperson for Ecologistas en Acción.

This organization wants both steps to be taken by the Government in the pending transposition of the 2018 renewable energy directive II, where palm oil has been frozen since 2019 and progressively reduced from 2023 until reaching 0% in 2030, although it is left each State anticipate the achievement of this objective. “The jungles don’t have that time,” Suley says.

Biofuels will make the road transition possible until electricity and hydrogen arrive

Miteco sources assert that “in 2030 0% use of palm oil will be reached for the manufacture of first-generation biofuels”, although they do not clarify whether they will advance that term.

And on the exclusion of other derivatives of palm, the same sources assure that they will be “to what the European Commission provides” in the review and possible modifications that it plans to make “no later than June 30, 2021” of the delegated act on this approved in March 2019.

Microalgae are the future

Investigation. The technology to produce biofuels from microalgae is not yet well established. Its primary destination is aviation. The Etihad airline, from the United Arab Emirates, already flies using a biofuel generated with these organisms.

Gemma Vicente and Fernando Bautista, professors of chemical engineering at the Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, have a project with several lines of work “for an integral use that seeks the production of biodiesel, bio-oil, biogas and other applications”, explains Bautista .

Other products with high added value obtained from these “are what make these processes profitable”, explains Vicente. It refers to pigments that are later used in cosmetics, food or pharmacy.

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