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Construction begins on large renewable diesel, SAF production facility in Spain

Photo: Cepsa

Cepsa and Bio-Oils, a subsidiary of Apical, announced Feb. 23 that the companies are beginning construction of what they say is the largest second-generation biofuels plant in Southern Europe.


This facility, which will flexibly produce 500,000 tons per year (tpy) of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), also referred to as renewable diesel, will allow the joint venture formed by both companies to double its current production capacity.


The new second-generation biofuels plant, along with the existing facilities operated by Cepsa and Bio-Oils in Huelva, Spain, will form the second largest renewable fuel complex in Europe, with a total production capacity of 1 million tpy.


The new facility is expected to be operational in 2026 and will be built in Palos de la Frontera (Huelva), next to La Rábida Energy Park.


Its development involves a 1.2-billion-euro (USD$1.3-billion) investment and the creation of 2,000 direct and indirect jobs during the construction and operation phases.


The start of construction on this project was celebrated Feb. 23 at a ceremony attended by government dignitaries and corporate executives.


“Today we are breaking ground on our second-generation biofuels plant, the first major milestone of our Positive Motion strategy,” said Cepsa CEO Maarten Wetselaar. “This strategic project for Spain and Andalusia will make us a European benchmark in the field of green molecules and facilitate the immediate decarbonization of sectors that cannot run on electrons, like aviation. This is the start of a new chapter for Cepsa and this region that will generate quality employment and a new era of industrialization.”


Pratheepan Karunagaran, the executive director of Apical, added, “The global production of SAF is expected to triple in 2024, compared to the 2023 levels, reaching 1.5 million tons. Yet, the availability of sustainably available feedstock remains a challenge for many countries. As we continue to expand Apical’s global footprint and capacities, the availability of waste and residue is set to grow in tandem, enabling value-added partnerships to be forged for our waste stream to drive the production and adoption of SAF. Our second-generation biofuels plant with Cepsa, which will be the largest aviation-fuel processing facility in Southern Europe, is an excellent example of how industry players can come together to unlock the potential of SAF and scale up adoption in an affordable manner.”


This new plant, which will be built with the latest technology for the production of renewable fuels, will have a minimal environmental impact.


Thanks to the consumption of renewable hydrogen, 100 percent renewable electricity and different heat-recovery and energy-efficiency systems, this facility will emit 75 percent less CO2 than a traditional biofuel plant and is designed to achieve net-zero emissions in the medium term.


Likewise, it will not consume fresh water, but will only use reclaimed water, and its water emissions will have a minimal impact on the ecosystem thanks to a powerful water-treatment plant.


The facility will also be digitally native and will incorporate the latest advances for the industry in artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT) and data analysis.


This facility will enable the development of other key projects to reposition Spain and Andalusia in the international energy landscape.


In addition to SAF and renewable diesel, the plant will also produce biogas, a fundamental raw material for the production of green hydrogen, essential for the decarbonization of industry such as this very plant or the energy park alongside it, or for the production of fertilizers.


Additionally, another product is captured from the treatment of biogas—biogenic CO2—which is essential for the production of green methanol to decarbonize maritime transport.


As such, this project is a key element of the entire Andalusian Green Hydrogen Valley ecosystem being led by Cepsa.


The initial work for the development of these facilities will focus on earthmoving and land improvements, urbanization and infrastructure foundation, as well as the start of marine construction at the southern pier of the Port of Huelva given that the project also encompasses the development of auxiliary facilities in the port necessary for its operation.


The new plant will secure the majority of its raw-material supply from organic waste such as agricultural waste and used cooking oils through a global, long-term agreement with Apical, enabling it to address one of the main challenges facing the industry—access to raw materials.


Second-generation biofuels promote the circular economy by using waste for their production that would otherwise be discarded or end up in landfills.


Compared to traditional fuels, the renewable fuels developed in this complex by Cepsa and Bio-Oils will prevent the emission of 3 million tpy of CO2, equivalent to 4 percent of road-transport emissions in Spain.


The construction of this facility will involve the installation of 590 kilometers of pipelines (more than the distance separating the cities of Huelva and Madrid) and 1,400 kilometers of cable (almost the distance between Huelva and Paris).


Biofuels are a present-day solution to accelerate the decarbonization of transportation, a sector that currently accounts for 15 percent of global CO2 emissions.


They are a strategic technology for achieving an immediate energy transition that can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 90 percent compared to traditional fuels, making them a key element in promoting the decarbonization of land, sea and air transportation.


As part of its 2030 Positive Motion strategy, Cepsa is driving the development of an ecosystem focused on accelerating its own decarbonization and that of its customers through the production of green molecules, mainly renewable hydrogen (and its derivatives) and second-generation biofuels, to become a leader of the energy transition.


The creation of one of the largest renewable fuel complexes in Europe is part of Cepsa’s goal of leading second-generation biofuel production in Spain and Portugal.


Under that plan, the company is developing an annual production capacity of 2.5 million tons of biofuels this decade, of which 800,000 tons will be SAF, enough sustainable jet fuel to fly across the planet 2,000 times.


Since 2022, Cepsa has been producing and marketing second-generation biofuels to its customers in the aviation, maritime and land sectors.


Last year it became the first company to permanently offer SAF (produced in its facilities from agricultural waste and used cooking oils) at five of Spain’s main airports: Madrid, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Seville and Malaga.


In addition, the energy company also offers these biofuels in 60 Spanish ports.


Operating at the forefront of the bioeconomy, Apical is well positioned to accelerate energy transition through embracing circularity as a core pillar of its sustainable business strategy.


By implementing a waste-to-value approach, the company optimizes its integrated supply chain to access broad range of agricultural waste and residues feedstock and upcycle them into renewable fuels such as SAF through this new state-of-the-art biofuels plant.


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