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The aim of achieving a society free of carbon emissions by 2050 seems especially ambitious in the area of mobility, as there are sectors in which it is complicated to reduce the carbon footprint, such as heavy road freight transportation, the aviation sector, or sea transportation. However, biofuels are a very interesting option to contribute to the challenge of decarbonization. 

Biofuels or e-fuels are liquid fuels that come from renewable raw materials and one of their main assets is that they have zero or low CO2 emissions during their production and final use. Among them, we can mention biodiesel, biogas, or bioalcohols such as bioethanol.

What is bioethanol and how is it obtained?

Bioethanol is a type of alcohol that is obtained from different types of plants rich in cellulose such as sugar cane, sugar beet, or some grains such as corn. Although it is possible to cultivate these vegetable raw materials with the aim of using them directly for bioethanol production, this fuel can also be obtained from forestry residue and agricultural waste. 

Today, the leading countries in the production and consumption of ethanol are Brazil and the US; this latter is also the main exporter of bioethanol in the world. In Europe, the country that consumes and exports the most bioethanol is France.

Although it may seem a novel process, in reality the first use of ethanol as a fuel was back in 1826, the date in which an American engineer devised the first ethanol-fueled combustion engine. Today, bioethanol has the same uses as the fuels used to generate other classes of energy such as heat, motor power (transportation), and electricity. 

To generate electricity, a bioethanol boiler is used in which the fuel is burned and the water vapor generated makes a turbine turn that allows this energy to be produced. With regards to transport, it is used similarly to gasoline or diesel, mixed in a certain percentage with the traditional fossil fuels to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, or used exclusively in prepared engines (such as those of flexible fuel vehicles). It is also very useful to heat rooms, as is the case with bioethanol fireplaces and heaters.

According to the Spanish Association of Petroleum Product Operators (AOP), bioethanol is divided into three types, depending on the raw material used for its production.

  • First generation bioethanol: It's derived from plants cultivated expressly for its production. 
  • Advanced bioethanol: It comes from agricultural or urban waste, especially from the decomposition of biomass coming from wood. In turn, advanced bioethanol can be obtained from plant species not intended for food, such as algae. It is still in the research and development phase, so it is not currently marketed.

Bioethanol fireplaces and heaters

Bioethanol fireplaces and heaters are an alternative to bear in mind to heat certain rooms not just in homes, but also in businesses, such as the case with restaurants and cafés. For example, they can be used to heat terraces in winter, as their heating power is significant. They work with a small biofuel deposit that is released and burns when the flame is ignited.

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Advantages of bioethanol fireplaces and heaters

  • They are very decorative and elegant. 
  • Unlike other flame heating equipment, bioethanol heaters and fireplaces don't generate smoke or ash.
  • The maintenance they require is minimal. 
  • They are installed very easily as they don't require a flue or extractor. Therefore, they are very practical to heat specific spaces in little time. 

Repsol and bioethanol

It its commitment to the circular economy as one of the pillars to transform its industrial centers into large multienergy hubs, Repsol and IMECAL — a Valencian metal company — have created the company PERSEO Biotechnology, in which Repsol has a 25% stake.

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This company derives from IMECAL's innovation department and combines everything related to a novel patented technology, called Perseo Bioethanol®, which allows organic solid urban waste to be transformed into bioethanol in a cost-effective manner. This technology consists of the hydrolysis and fermentation of the raw material in a single step, which provides great performance over other options. 

PERSEO Biotechnology has a pre-commercial phase plant in L’Alcúdia, Valencia, and can process up to 25 tonnes of organic waste daily. Its partnership with Repsol — through our capital investment fund Repsol Corporate Venturing — will allow the new company to perfect the technology in less time to reach the commercial phase and make the most of Repsol’s experience in this field. Both companies are collaborating to improve the efficiency of the Perseo Bioethanol® technology and maximize the variety of waste it can process.

For Repsol, this movement is aligned with one of the SDGs of our 2021-2025 Strategic Plan, whereby we aim to use four million tons of waste per year as a raw material by 2030.