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Comment Sustainability

Repsol begins construction of Cartagena biofuels plant

By Mary Page Bailey |

Repsol S.A. (Madrid, Spain) announced the beginning of the construction works of the first advanced biofuels plant in Spain at the company’s Cartagena refinery. At the event, Repsol’s Chairman, Antonio Brufau, was accompanied by the Director of the industrial complex, Antonio Mestre, and by the President of the Autonomous Community of the Region of Murcia, Fernando López Miras, the Delegate of the national Government in the Region of Murcia, José Vélez, the Mayoress of Cartagena, Noelia Arroyo, and other representatives of the regional and local authorities and business entities. After learning about the details of the project, they went inside the refinery to visit the area where the hydrotreatment plant will be installed.

Repsol has been incorporating biofuels into its automotive fuels for more than two decades. Now the company is taking one step more and, using the circular economy as a tool, will be producing advanced biofuels from different types of waste from the agri-food industry and others, such as used cooking oils. In this way, Repsol will give a second life to waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill by transforming it into products with a high added value. 

These advanced biofuels are a sustainable solution for all segments of mobility, especially for those that have no other alternative to decarbonize their activity, such as maritime, long-distance or aviation transport. They can reduce net CO2 emissions by 65% to 85% compared to the traditional fuels they replace.

Repsol relies on the circular economy, as one of its strategic pillars, to manufacture products with low, zero, or even a negative carbon footprint. Repsol’s goal is to use three million tons of waste per year to produce two million tons of low-carbon fuels by 2030, which will mitigate more than seven million tons of CO2 per year. 

The project is being developed in four different areas covering a surface area of 41,500 m2. Three of these will be located inside the refinery and correspond to the hydrotreating unit, the hydrogen production unit, and the biofuel storage tank area. The fourth area will be located in the facilities of the Port Authority of Cartagena where Repsol operates. This area will be equipped with the necessary infrastructures for the storage of 300,000 tons of different types of waste that will arrive by sea and the subsequent supply to domestic or export markets.

After the previous work of dismantling the disused facilities inside the refinery to house the new units – including the removal of 53,000 m3 of land – work is currently focused on civil works. Specifically, work has already begun on the construction of the tanks that will store the advanced biofuels. In the areas where the hydrotreatment and hydrogen plants will be located, civil works related to the installation of concrete structures and the placement of racks for the pipelines through which the raw materials and the advanced biofuels will be transported are already underway. 

The expansion of the facilities at the Cartagena refinery to allow the building of the new advanced biofuels plant, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, will generate around 1,000 jobs in the different phases of the project and the involvement of 240 auxiliary companies, of which 21% will be local, 25% regional, 42% national, and 12% international.

At present, more than 25 contracting companies and approximately 300 people are already working inside the refinery. This figure will increase to an average of 600 employees, and the peak is expected to be reached next autumn with some 800 direct and indirect workers.

Since the project was launched, Repsol has spent more than €72 million on the preliminary engineering work, commissioning of equipment, and auxiliary company labor. 

The Cartagena refinery is one of the main economic engines and generators of employment in the Region of Murcia. Nearly 900 highly qualified people work in the industrial complex in highly specialized positions. In addition to direct employment, the refinery generates around 400 jobs through contractors on a recurring basis, with this figure rising to 2,000 for specific projects.

Repsol has invested more than €456 million in the Cartagena industrial complex in the last ten years. To this amount, must be added the project to expand the refinery, inaugurated in 2012 by His Majesty King Felipe VI, then Crown Prince, which represented the largest industrial investment made in Spain, worth €3.2 billion and placing the industrial complex at the technological forefront in its sector. Today, the Cartagena refinery is an industrial benchmark, and it is among the most efficient facilities in Europe.

The Cartagena industrial facility is currently facing a transformation that will involve an evolution of its processes to become a multi-energy hub capable of producing a multitude of products with a low, zero, or even a negative carbon footprint. To do this, Repsol will apply all available technologies, such as renewable hydrogen, circular economy, and CO2 capture and use, and it will rely on additional tools, including digitization and energy efficiency. In 2021 alone, during maintenance work on the lubricant units and the last scheduled shutdown carried out in the conversion and hydrotreating areas, Repsol invested €31 million in projects to improve the energy efficiency of its facilities in Cartagena.

Repsol is fully aligned with E.U. initiatives and supports the achievement of these objectives with the construction of the first advanced biofuels plant in Spain and with various other projects that it has underway. Specifically, the multi-energy company has processed frying oil for the first time at its refinery in A Coruña to make biodiesel, and at its refineries in Puertollano, Tarragona, and Bilbao, it has produced batches of biojet that have enabled the first flights to be made with biofuel produced in Spain from waste, together with Iberia and Vueling. In this way, Repsol is anticipating the regulatory framework and making decisive progress in its goal of becoming a carbon-neutral company and offering sustainable fuels to sectors that are difficult to decarbonize, such as aviation, long-distance transport, and maritime transport.

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