Biofuels can be used to decarbonise land, sea and air transportation in various different forms. The big advantage of biofuels is that they work with most existing combustion engines, meaning they can be distributed through the current infrastructure for conventional fuels.

Cepsa is already producing some biofuels from used cooking oil at the La Rabida energy park in Huelva. Earlier this year it began construction—together with Bio-Oils—of a €1.2b ($1.3b) second-generation biofuels plant in the same location. Along with the existing facilities operated by Cepsa and Bio-Oils in Huelva, the plant will form the second-largest renewable fuel complex in Europe, with a total production capacity of 1mt/yr.

Cepsa will also develop a portfolio of biomethane projects, substituting natural gas (which is mostly methane) in the production of low-carbon hydrogen or other processes.

Access to quality feedstock is a significant challenge in second-generation biofuels production

AI, the internet of things (IoT) and data analysis technologies are being used by the developers to maximise process efficiency, as well as to help ensure high safety and environmental standards.

“The plant will be flexible, it can produce renewable diesel, but it can also switch to produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF),” said Rik Sneep, director of strategy and transformation at Cepsa.

Renewable diesel produced will be used to supply to Cepsa’s own retail fuelling network. During 2023, the firm signed an agreement to acquire Ballenoil’s network of more than 230 service stations, bringing Cepsa’s network to more than 2,000 service stations.

Cepsa started supplying 100% of renewable diesel to its network, as well as via direct sales, last year.

“Many modern conventional diesel engines can use pure HVO [renewable diesel], although not all and, of course there is also a cost element for customers. When thinking about how we maximise uptake of clean fuel, it’s probably going to be more in a blend that can be used in a wider variety of engines and can be introduced at an attractive price level,” said Sneep.

Cepsa is also looking into blending renewable diesel with fuel oil for marine bunkering. Such blends can be used in ships without the need for modifications to their engines. In 2022, the firm carried out several weeks of tests blending very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) with advanced biofuels on the Montestena crude tanker owned by Spanish group Ibaizabal. As a result of the tests Cepsa, began offering blends to maritime customers, enabling them to decarbonise their operations without investing in new vessels.

The firm can deliver biofuels by barge to ports on the south coast of Spain and Barcelona and by tanker to the 60 or so other ports in which it operates. Last year, it carried out its first biofuels bunkering operation in the port of Barcelona.

Also last year, Cepsa’s Bahia Levante barge, a hybrid electric-diesel fuel supply vessel developed in collaboration with shipowner Mureloil, started supplying second-generation biofuels to vessels in Algeciras.

Naviera Armas Trasmediterránea ferries made 84 trips across the Strait of Gibraltar in 2023 using biofuels produced by Cepsa.

In the long term the plant being developed with Bio-Oils is likely to be calibrated to produce more SAF, as there are fewer decarbonisation alternatives for the aviation industry than there are for road transport, which can be electrified.

“From a reliable demand perspective, there will be a significant need for SAF in the years to come, until new alternatives become commercially available,” said Sneep. “For renewable diesel it might vary a little bit more and depend on how different countries in Europe implement the RFNBO [renewable fuel of non-biological origin] mandates.”

Last year, Cepsa also successfully completed the first test of second-generation biofuels on a rail route between Algeciras and Cordoba, opening up another potential demand sector for the fuel.


Cepsa is the biggest supplier of SAF in Spain and aims to be at the forefront of the decarbonisation of the aviation sector. The firm has signed partnerships with airlines such as Iberia, Iberia Express, Air Nostrum, Vueling, Binter, Etihad, TUI, Wizz Air and Volotea to promote the use of the fuel.

At the end of 2022 it conducted a test with a group of these airlines, fuelling more than 200 flights departing from Seville airport with SAF produced at the La Rábida energy park using co-processing.

Co-processing is a way of producing SAF from traditional refineries by introducing a low blend of renewable feedstocks alongside crude oil streams. Relatively minor modifications are required to existing equipment to enable this.

The advantage of co-processing is that Cepsa can test the fuel while it builds its standalone plant with Bio-Oils.

“Cepsa is on track to lead second-generation biofuels production in southern Europe this decade” Barrasa, Cepsa

Cepsa is offering a low blend of SAF at five main Spanish airports—Madrid, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Seville and Malaga—and it has partnered with Air Europa to supply 14.4t of SAF for one year to cover the monthly Madrid–Havana flight.

“Currently, we sell SAF as a blend as most commercial aircraft are not yet certified to fly on pure SAF,” said Sneep. “But it is a good way to build experience, and airplane manufacturers are working hard on the certifications.”

The aviation industry is working on adapting engines to work on higher blends of SAF. Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Boeing have all performed test flights with 100% SAF blends, while Airbus says that all its commercial planes will be certified to fly on 100% SAF by 2030.

Biofuel feedstock

Access to quality feedstock is a significant challenge in second-generation biofuels production, as renewable fuel mandates in the EU have led to an increase in demand for used cooking oil, waste and residue oils and fats.

Consumption of vegetable oil for biofuel production is expected to increase 46% from 2022 levels to 54mt/yr by 2027, according to the IEA.

Last year, Cepsa reached a long-term agreement with Apical—the parent company of Bio-Oils, its development partner in the Huelva biofuels plant—to secure the bulk of the second-generation feedstock supply for the plant.

“We’ve been able to address one of the main challenges facing the industry, which is access to raw materials, and Cepsa is on track to lead second-generation biofuels production in southern Europe this decade,” said Carlos Barrasa, Cepsa’s executive vice president of commercial and clean energies.

In addition to its Apical agreement, the firm is also looking to diversify its supply of feedstocks and is considering options such as lignocellulosic, biomass and agricultural and municipal waste matter.

Cepsa has a joint study with the Canary Islands Institute of Technology to investigate the use of microalgae as a feedstock for biofuels. The research, which will be completed later this year, will cultivate microalgae in wastewater from a treatment plant, as well as brine from a desalination plant. It will then process the algae through a hydrothermal liquefaction reactor to obtain the feedstock, which will be tested in the firm’s biofuels production plants.

The company also has a study with the Spanish National Research Council to research the viability of planting energy cover crops in different rural areas across Spain. These crops prevent soil erosion in periods between the main planting seasons of other crops and can also be used to provide the organic matter for second-generation biofuels.

Cepsa has also signed a collaboration deal with Cooperativas Agro-alimentarias de Espana—an organisation representing more than 3,600 Spanish agricultural cooperatives—to evaluate the feasibility of using waste from the olive, olive oil, wine and livestock industries as feedstocks for second-generation biofuels.

The agreement aims to facilitate partnerships with cooperatives interested in biomass production using energy cover crops. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy offers financial rebates to farmers who carry out at least one voluntary sustainable practice such as this.


Cepsa has reached an agreement with Kira Ventures to develop up to 15 biomethane plants in Spain over this decade.

Both companies are now working on the development of the first five plants, which will be located in Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla-y-León and are expected to be operational between 2025 and 2026.

These plants will use agricultural and livestock waste produced locally to make the fuel.

Cepsa’s objective in 2030 is to produce 4TWh/yr to decarbonise its industrial activities via low-carbon hydrogen, and the firm may start to feed larger amounts of this kind of hydrogen into the distribution ring as biomethane production grows.

This article is taken from the special report Positive Motion: Enabling Europe’s Green Hydrogen Ecosystem, produced with Cespsa To read the report in full, click here.



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