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Evolving the refining industry to the climate change challenge

Evolving the refining industry to the climate change challenge
As all sectors within the European Union work towards tackling the climate change challenge, Giorgia Manno, senior policy advisor at FuelsEurope, explains how Vision 2050 sets out the steps the refining sector would take, provided an enabling regulatory framework is in place, to contribute to the fight against climate change and embrace low-carbon technologies

The EU refining sector is looking forward in order to contribute to the achievement of the European climate targets with new low-carbon processes and technologies.

Launched in 2018, the industry’s Vision 2050 plan presents how the sector can evolve with new low-carbon processes and products as long as the right regulatory framework is in place. As part of the EU’s long-term strategy, requiring all sectors of the economy to help achieve certain EU climate goals, Visions 2050 sets out the industry’s potential plan to increasingly use a combination of new, low-carbon feedstocks – such as biomass and vegetable oils, waste and captured CO2 – in highly efficient manufacturing processes.

The plan suggests that the refining sector could implement CCS/CCU technologies, for example, and further reduce emissions by using renewable electricity and hydrogen on-site.

In an interview with Tank Storage Magazine Giorgia Manno, senior policy advisor at FuelsEurope, says that the key to succeed is for all European and national authorities to work together for a global challenge, creating the conditions for the development and deployment of new low-carbon technologies.

‘The vision highlights that there is no silver bullet to cope with the climate and energy challenges and that a technology-neutral approach needs to be developed,’ she explains.

‘This means that the European and national authorities should allow all promising low-carbon technologies to compete, instead of picking specific technologies for policy support based on arbitrary selection criteria. Some of these key technologies are already in place, but more investments are needed to develop them at the scale level.’


However, society will still require oil and liquid hydrocarbons in the future. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2018, oil will still be needed in 2040 and liquid hydrocarbons will be difficult to replace for the heavy-duty, marine transport, aviation industries, as well as a feedstock for the petrochemical industry.

Petrochemicals are becoming the largest drivers of global oil demand and the IEA projects they will account for more than a third of the growth in world oil demand to 2030, and nearly half the growth to 2050.

‘The energy sector faces the challenge to emit less CO2 while continuing to supply the economy with the required products,’ says Manno.

‘That is why FuelsEurope considers that electrification is certainly among the solutions but that the low carbon fuels and the refinery as described in Vision 2050 would also ensure the security of supply in the energy market, covering the demand.

‘This would also lower the risk of the EU becoming dependent on imports of cobalt, nickel, lithium and other raw material for batteries, which would be needed in case of a full electrification.

‘A technology neutral approach and the recognition of a role for low carbon liquid fuels would avoid the risk for price increases and security of supply.’

According to Concawe’s preliminary results (the scientific division of the Petroleum Refiners Association), when considering technologies related to energy efficiency, the use of low-carbon energy sources and the capture and storage of CO2, the total CO2 emissions intensity of EU refineries can be reduced by 20% to 30% by 2030, going up to 70% by 2050 compared to 1990. Concawe is also exploring the progressive replacement of oil by low carbon feedstocks which would offer additional CO2 (fossil related) savings.

As long as an appropriate legal framework is in place, Manno says refineries will have a different shape in the future, producing from a new kind of feedstocks and through more efficient processes. Oil will be used less and feedstocks, such as plastic, waste, biomass and CO2 would produce low carbon fuels.

Furthermore, an immediate emissions reduction in all transport vehicles could be achieved with the full utilisation of existing infrastructure – with some eventual adjustments – for the production, distribution and storage of liquid fuels. There would not be the need to replace the whole car park.


Manno says: ‘Oil and gas companies are investing in R&D and deployment projects that illustrate how the industry could evolve in a way that mitigates climate change. A few early R&D examples and some cases of deployment show the industry’s engagements and capabilities at different stages of the value chain.’

An example of the transition refineries are undergoing can be seen in the biorefineries of La Mède, in France, or Venice and Gela, in Italy.

‘The EU refining industry today is an example of European industrial excellence, proving an essential contribution to the EU value chain,’ says Manno.

‘It has repeatedly demonstrated its capability to innovate and evolve and to adapt to the needs of the economy and citizens and to environmental legislation. Therefore, the development of innovative, low-carbon solutions for liquid fuels, new products and converted industrial facilities will give the technological leadership to the EU.’

Looking at how the EU Industrial strategy ensures refineries are able to retain their economic viability, Manno says: ‘The contribution of the EU refining industry can be enhanced by an EU industrial strategy enabling the energy transition, referring to the low-carbon liquid fuels and encouraging investments in promising technologies.

‘This would be key to prevent the relocation outside the EU of manufacturing activities, allowing refineries to retain their economic viability and job in the face of declining domestic demand and of increasingly aggressive international competition.

‘A low-carbon liquid fuel strategy could be an industrial opportunity for Europe. The EU Industrial strategy should introduce a suitable development of the long-term policy framework to attract investments in Europe, leading the refinery of the future towards a pioneering, low-carbon manufacturing hub integrated with a cluster of industries, able to expand this industrial collaboration in future low-carbon technologies.’

Manno will be talking more about Vision 2050 and the energy transition on the first day of the FETSA conference on June 12. For more information visit the event website.