General information

Renewable fuels for more sustainable mobility

An alternative for the decarbonisation of transport is the use of this type of fuels made from water and CO2 that can be used in any type of vehicle and represent a significant step towards the energy transition.

Renewing our consumption habits in relation to mobility is more necessary than ever when it comes to finding effective and lasting solutions against the effects of climate change. In particular, in sectors such as transport -whether by land, sea or air- which, due to their characteristics, are highly dependent on traditional fuels and have a very high level of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. 

Among the alternatives for addressing the challenge of moving towards the decarbonisation of the sector, one of the most interesting options is the so-called "renewable fuels." A generation of non-oil-derived fuels that, by using the latest technological advances in their production processes, make it possible to reduce the carbon footprint in this type of activity effectively.

Synthetic fuels or eFuels, together with biofuels and renewable hydrogen, are the main examples of this kind of sustainable solutions for mobility, which are already a reality.

What are renewable synthetic fuels?

They are a type of fuel that is very similar to those we use today and whose main advantage is that we do not need to depend on oil to manufacture them since they are made of two primary and reusable raw materials: water and CO2.  

They are a type of fuel that is very similar to those we use today and whose main advantage is that we do not need to depend on oil to manufacture them since they are made of two primary and reusable raw materials: water and CO2.  

In addition, they can be used in any means of transport, whether in cars, motorcycles, trucks, ships or airplanes, without the need for infrastructure changes or any other adjustments to existing vehicle engines. Therefore, they are a perfect alternative for reducing emissions practically and effectively. 

What are they used for?

How are these fuels produced?

The synthetic fuel production process is very simple and consists of three steps. The first step is called electrolysis and it consists of separating oxygen and hydrogen particles from water. This is achieved by applying renewable electricity to water from wind or photovoltaic sources, so the process is as sustainable as possible. Once we have separated the particles, the oxygen is returned to the atmosphere, and the hydrogen is reserved -now called renewable hydrogen after having been treated- for the next step in the process. 

In the next step, CO2 is captured from the air using cutting-edge devices, whether directly from the atmosphere or in refineries, where a surplus of this particle is usually produced. Next, a specialized industrial plant combines the captured carbon dioxide and the renewable hydrogen obtained in the first step. Their fusion creates the synthetic fuel that will later be used in vehicles. 

 

Environmental benefits of eFuels

There are many advantages that convert renewable fuels into one of the most realistic alternatives in the short and medium to long term to fight climate change from the mobility sector. 

Sustainable and efficient

They generate zero net emissions and are manufactured using renewable raw materials.

Safe transport and storage

The same infrastructure as refineries and service stations can be used.

Advanced technology

They represent a turning point in the development of new emission-reducing technologies.

No engine changes

They can be used with current combustion vehicles.

The role of synthetic fuels in the energy transition

Due to all these characteristics and advantages, eFuels or synthetic fuels can represent a major step forward in the decarbonisation of mobility in the coming decades and become a much more feasible objective. Precisely, one of the main advantages of these fuels is their adaptability and flexibility, which allow them to be implemented from the outset on a large scale. 

As opposed to other sustainable energy alternatives that need more implementation time to reach all users -the transformation of supply and distribution infrastructures, higher prices, not being affordable for families or problems acquiring materials-synthetic renewable fuels are an affordable and sustainable solution. This is because they use the same combustion engines as current vehicles and are manufactured using renewable raw materials.

Outlook for the use of these fuels

Although there are many advantages to using this type of synthetic fuel, the objectives agreed upon at the European level in energy transition seem to be tipping the balance towards other solutions such as the electrification of mobility. Proof of this is the measure approved on 28 June by the European Union to prohibit the sale of vehicles with combustion engines as of 2035, but leaving open the possibility of registering combustion engines that run on renewable fuels, such as zero-emission synthetic fuels. A regulation that has sparked significant controversy in the sector and that, added to the prohibition of circulation of polluting vehicles after 1 January 2050, makes the future of synthetic fuels uncertain due to this type of regulation. 

Many speak of technological neutrality and the European Union betting equally on all technologies contributing to climate neutrality, not favouring some over others. Such is the case of Juan Antonio Carillo, President of the AOP (Spanish Association of Petroleum Products Operators ) and Executive Director of Refining at Repsol, who commented in the daily newspaper Expansion that "all sectors should be allowed to tread firmly in this transaction and not exclude any solution that could contribute to achieving the ultimate goal." At the end of the day, we are all rowing in the same direction and playing all the cards we have available. 

Despite the most recent controversies on this issue, it is clear that committing to the energy transition and the decarbonisation of transport must be a priority at all levels in the European Union. Synthetic renewable fuels can play a significant role in this process if they are allowed to become one of the key alternatives to facilitate the shift towards a much more sustainable mobility model in the future.

Sustainable mobility Low-carbon fuels
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