Although they are still quite unknown, renewable fuels are similar to traditional fuels in many ways: they can be used in today’s vehicles with the same reliability, they offer similar performance and the pumps that serve them are the same. Here the similarities end and the differences begin. The main one is that they are manufactured with renewable raw materials, such as used vegetable oils, waste from the agri-food industry or renewable hydrogen. In addition, they fulfill their function without adding more CO₂ to the atmosphere. As the Spanish Association of Petroleum Product Operators (AOP) explains, the carbon they emit in their combustion is balanced with that previously removed in their manufacture. Therefore, the carbon footprint of these fuels is zero.
These fuels, the experts say, are not a chimera. The distribution and refueling infrastructures are the same as those for conventional fuels. In fact, they are already present in all service stations and in the engines of current cars. Today, gasoline and diesel contain by law more than 10% renewable fuel, an amount that should increase to 12% in 2026. For every renewable percentage point added to fuel, according to the AOP, the emission of 800,000 tons is avoided of CO₂ into the atmosphere, a reduction equivalent to registering 400,000 electric vehicles.
Javier Gil, director of the Biomass department at CENER (National Renewable Energy Center), analyzes the potential of organic waste, the main source from which renewable fuels currently use: “In Spain, according to a study by the Institute for the Diversification and Energy Saving, the production potential of lignocellulosic raw materials —what is known as biomass, vegetable dry matter— would be equivalent to approximately 12 million tons of oil. Bearing in mind that energy consumption in transport in Spain is approximately 30 million tons of oil equivalent, to cover this demand it will be necessary to combine electric mobility with the use of renewable fuels”.
We will see an increasing percentage of renewable fuels in the current mixtures “until we reach 100%”, estimates the AOP: “There is already an initiative to market fully renewable fuel at a service station in our country.” Repsol has already launched three projects in Madrid, Barcelona and Lisbon (Portugal), which, for the moment, supply these fuels only to trucks.
To increase production, the sector is investing in new plants: “It is important that there are clear regulations that contemplate renewable fuels as a complementary alternative to electrification, and that provide certainty and give the appropriate signals to make the investments required by their development”, assures the AOP. In addition, the widespread use of these fuels will derive, in the words of Ion Arocena, general director of the Spanish Association of Biotechnology Companies, in economies of scale that produce “lowering costs”.
Renewable fuels are an alternative to make all transport segments more sustainable, especially those that are difficult to electrify, say experts, such as heavy passenger and freight transport by road, sea or air. In this last area, companies such as Iberia have already carried out long-haul flights using sustainable fuel, such as those that last summer connected the Spanish capital with the North American cities of Washington, Dallas and San Francisco. Javier Aríztegui, an expert in renewable fuels at Repsol Technology Lab, explains that the European regulation is already aimed at decarbonising all transport segments, but warns that we must start now: “If we do not have plans to start up on the horizon of 2035-2040, production the tools to decarbonize, we will probably not reach the 2050 targets.”
These tools, such as renewable fuels and electrification, can coexist: “We strongly believe in technological neutrality. Let the end user select what best suits their needs”, understands Aríztegui. These fuels will also contribute to reducing the energy dependence of Spain and Europe, points out the AOP, “since native raw materials are used in their production, unlike oil or the critical minerals required for the manufacture of electric batteries” .