Repsol’s Cartagena refinery starts up Spain’s first industrial-scale biofuels plant

April 3, 2024
Repsol SA has commissioned the Iberian Peninsula’s first plant exclusively dedicated to 100% industrial-scale production of renewable fuels at the operator’s 220,000-b/d Cartagena refinery in the country’s southeastern province of Murcia.

Repsol SA has commissioned the Iberian Peninsula’s first plant exclusively dedicated to 100% industrial-scale production of renewable fuels at the operator’s 220,000-b/d Cartagena refinery in the country’s southeastern province of Murcia, along the Mediterranean Sea.

Operable as of Apr. 3, the advanced biofuels production plant has combined capacity to produce 250,000 tonnes/year (tpy) of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from a 300,000-tpy feedstock of organic waste such as used cooking oil (UCO), among others, Repsol said.

The lower carbon intensity of renewable fuels produced by the new plant—which can be used directly by cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, and ships without requiring changes to equipment or fueling infrastructure—will reduce net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 90% compared to fossil-based fuels they replace to avert 900,000 tpy of CO2 emissions, according to the operator.

The Cartagena advanced biofuels plant—also known as the C43 project—comes as part of Repsol’s broader commitment to advancing the energy transition by strategically decarbonizing operations to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

“[Startup of the new plant] is an example of how at Repsol we are capable of leading the energy transition and taking advantage of our knowledge and experience to offer to all mobility segments a real alternative to advance decarbonization through a [carbon-free] fuel…that allows us to reduce the carbon footprint immediately," said Antonio Mestre, director of the Cartagena industrial complex.

First announced in October 2020 as a then-proposed €188-million ($223.2-million) Cartagena renewables investment, Repsol confirmed upon official startup that the newly commissioned renewable fuels plant was completed at a final investment of about €250 million ($270.9 million).

In late 2020, Axens Group of France licensed its proprietary Vegan technology—which hydrotreats a wide range of lipids for production of low-density, high-cetane renewable diesel as well as renewable, sulfur-free jet fuel—for the Cartagena complex’s biofuels plant (OGJ Online, Nov. 11, 2020).

Additional decarbonization plans

The Cartagena plant marks the first of three Repsol plans to install across its operations by 2030 as part of the operator’s ongoing strategy to transform its six industrial complexes on the Iberian Peninsula into decarbonized, multi-energy hubs equipped to process a variety of raw materials for production of low-carbon energies, said Juan Abascal, executive managing director of industrial transformation and circular economy for Repsol.

The new biofuels plant in Cartagena will be followed by a second one at Repsol’s 150,000-b/d Puertollano refinery in Spain’s province of Ciudad Real, Castile-La Mancha, the operator said.

Approved in July 2023 at an investment of more than €120 million, the Puertollano biofuels project will involve conversion of an existing diesel hydrotreating unit at the refinery into a plant designed to produce 240,000 tpy of renewable fuels from UCO, animal fats, and other vegetable oil waste, Repsol said in its recently released annual report to investors.

Scheduled for completion by yearend 2025 and commissioning by the end of first-quarter 2026, the Puertollano biofuels plant, once operational, will yield a 750,000-tpy reduction in CO2 emissions, according to the 2023 annual report.

Targeting a total production capacity of renewable fuels—including renewable hydrogen and biomethane—across its system of 1.5-1.7 million tpy in 2027 and up to 2.7 million tpy in 2030, Repsol said it plans to install a third biofuels plant at one of its yet-to-be-confirmed three remaining industrial complexes in Spain before 2030.

In addition to the Cartagena and Puertollano manufacturing sites, Repsol owns or holds majority interest in:

  • The 186,000-b/d Tarragona integrated refining and petrochemicals complex along northeastern Spain’s Costa Daurada of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • The 120,000-b/d A Coruña refinery in northern Spain.
  • Subsidiary Petróleos del Norte SA’s (Petronor) 220,000-b/d refinery and industrial complex at Múskiz, near Bilbao, Biscay Province, in Spain’s northern autonomous Basque Country.

As part of the company’s 2023-27 strategic plan, Repsol has outlined investments of up to €6.8 billion in its industrial businesses, of which 44% will be dedicated solely to low-carbon projects primarily for renewable fuels, biomethane, renewable hydrogen, and waste gasification.

While the operator said execution of these planned investments will ultimately depend on the Spanish regulator and fiscal framework, the operator—in collaboration with partner Saudi Aramco—is already developing an industrial demonstration plant near its Petronor refinery for production of synthetic fuels (e-fuels) produced from renewable hydrogen and captured CO2.

In its 2023 annual report, Repsol confirmed the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) phase is already underway for a 10=Mw electrolyzer that will supply renewable hydrogen both to the proposed Bilbao e-fuels demo plant.

In third-quarter 2023 at the Petronor complex, Repsol commissioned a 2.5-Mw electrolyzer—the company’s first—equipped to generate 350 tpy of renewable hydrogen, most of which is used by Petronor’s refinery as a raw material for production of products with a reduced-carbon footprint (OGJ Online, Oct. 17, 2023).