Until the pandemic broke into our lives, more than 1.1 billion people traveled by plane each year in the European Union. Commercial flights have multiplied in the last three decades and with it the sector’s CO2 emissions, which has caused more and more citizens to join the “flygskam” movement. Followers of this new trend “on the ground” choose to travel, usually short distances, in other means of transport. The idea is that each one contributes their grain of sand in the fight against climate change.
To get these people who are ashamed of flying to trust this means of transport, airlines have four levers in their favor that will protect the environment at the same time as their sector: the improvement in aircraft and engine technologies , the implementation of economic measures promoting the CO2 emissions market, improvements in air traffic management and aircraft operations, and above all, the use of biojet, a sustainable bi-fuel that, mixed with conventional kerosene, can significantly reduce the net emissions of an aircraft. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the use of this biofuel is what can generate the greatest change in the sector in a shorter space of time.
It should not be forgotten that the aviation industry has set itself the objective, in its Destination 2050 initiative, to ensure that all internal flights and flights departing from the European Union, the United Kingdom and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) have zero net CO2 emissions by 2050, in line with the European Green Deal and the Paris Agreement. In Europe, Norway already establishes the obligation that 0.5% of consumption be from biojet from 2020, while France and Sweden force to incorporate 1% from 2021, in compliance with the new Renewable Energy Directive. In Spain, the first step has been taken by Repsol, which last year manufactured the first two batches of biojet for national aviation: 17,000 tons of kerosene, the use of which avoids emissions equivalent to 95 flights between Madrid and Barcelona.
Biofuels are, therefore, one of the best options to decarbonize transport and have become a complementary strategic alternative to electrification, a more than feasible option for light vehicles, but which to date is not realistic for move ships, planes, or long-distance transport trucks. This is how Frans Timmermans explains it. Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of the European Green Deal, when he points out that “the development of sustainable fuel for aviation is extremely important, since electrification is not currently a solution for this sector”.
WHAT ARE BIOFUELS AND WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES?
Biofuels are sustainable and renewable fuels, which come from alternative raw materials, such as organic waste, plant crops and even animal excrement, and which have zero or low CO2 emissions during their production and final use.
As Miguel Angel Garcia Carreno, Repsol Technology Lab Process Development Manager explains, one of the advantages of biofuels is that “their chemical composition is similar to conventional fuels, which allows their use in current vehicles with engines. of combustion, and therefore take advantage of the already existing infrastructures of refueling and distribution.
BIOJET: THE BEST ALTERNATIVE TO MAKE FLYING MORE SUSTAINABLE
Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) obtained from biomass or waste is known as biojet. It is the best option for flights to reduce their carbon footprint. The biojet can be of two types depending on the raw material that has been used in its manufacture. It is first generation when it is obtained from vegetable oils and advanced when it uses residues from the agri-food industry, agricultural residues, forest residues or the organic fraction of urban solid residues as raw material. In the first case, the reduction of CO2 emissions is greater than 60%, while in the second it can exceed 85%
It should be noted that the European Union requires that the production of this biofuel is always sustainable. In this sense, the raw materials used cannot come, for example, from crops where there used to be a natural space, such as a forest, a jungle or a wetland. Therefore, the industries supplying this fuel must demonstrate in each batch that the production process has been fully sustainable.
THE COMMITMENT TO BIOFUELS
There are two main routes to obtain biofuels. On the one hand, through the transformation of existing refineries, which previously were fed only with oil and are now adapting to also treat all types of waste and generate fuels and materials with low, zero or even negative carbon footprint. On the other hand, biofuels can also be produced in plants built from scratch specifically for it. In Spain, the first advanced biofuel plant is being built by Repsol in Cartagena. This plant, which will be operational in 2023, will produce, from recycled raw materials, advanced biofuels that can be used in airplanes, trucks or cars, and will reduce 900,000 tons of CO2 per year. With it, the needs of these sustainable fuels in the Spanish market will be covered.
The production of biofuels in Spain will not only have very positive effects on the environment. As García Carreño indicates, “it represents an opportunity for industrial development, since it generates economic activity and favors the diversification of the energy mix of our country”. For example, during the construction of the Cartagena plant, some 1,000 direct and indirect jobs will be created in various disciplines. That the aviation industry has the recipe to reduce its emissions and that there are companies that are betting on its production is good news whose impact will be noticed in many areas, beyond aeronautics.
SYNTHETIC KEROSENE, ANOTHER WAY TO REDUCE EMISSION
Apart from the biojet, there are other sustainable fuels for aviation (SAF) that will have a significant impact on the decarbonisation of this sector. These include net zero emission synthetic fuels, also known as e-fuels. Produced with renewable hydrogen and CO2 as raw materials, they can be used in combustion engines like those currently installed in cars in Spain and around the world, and also in airplanes, trucks and other applications.