20 Sep 2019

Refinery 2050: Conceptual Assessment. Exploring opportunities and challenges for the EU refining industry to transition towards a low-CO2 intensive economy

Report no. 9/19: This report is the second in a series of publications that explore opportunities and challenges for EU refineries to integrate technologies and feedstocks that would reduce the fossil carbon intensity of petroleum products. The first Concawe report (Low Carbon Pathways: CO2 reduction technologies in the EU refining system. 2030/2050) explored opportunities to invest in new technologies to reduce the CO2 emissions from refineries in the short and then medium-term. The current report goes beyond this approach by exploring the potential to substitute crude oil with bio-feedstocks and the use of renewable electricity. Sustainable vegetable oils, lignocellulosic biomass and e-fuels have been selected as initial examples of key low carbon feedstocks in this conceptual assessment. As the starting point, this report defines two potential 2050 demand scenarios followed by the description of the conversion pathways required for the integration of the selected low-carbon feedstocks within a notional mid-range European refinery. Then, the results of the modelling exercise are presented, moving from mostly oil-based cases, where the EU refineries meet the 2050 demand in the most plausible CO2 efficient manner consistent with the first report mentioned above, to the progressive integration of low-carbon feedstocks illustrated by two series of cases:

  • Limited penetration cases (individual pathways): where the implications of the production of 1 Mt/a liquid products from each of the selected low carbon feedstocks are described.
  • Maximum low carbon feedstock cases (Combined pathways): Based on the different nature of the feeds explored, this report moves further in the analysis by looking at the combination of different low carbon feedstocks. This second series of cases illustrate a hypothetical situation where these alternative feedstocks would provide the bulk of the total intake to the refineries. These cases highlight the need for multiple pathways in order to meet the demand effectively without impacting the European import/export balance.

In all the cases modelled, the implications in terms of feedstock supply, key processing requirements such as hydrogen and electricity and the impact such changes have on the CO2 emissions intensity both at refinery level and for the end products in Europe are initially assessed and quantified. Potential impacts and synergies with the existing assets, as crude oil is progressively replaced, are also investigated. With this report, Concawe aims to provide a better understanding of the implications and framework conditions that would be required, showing how the challenges for such a transformation go beyond the battery limits of the refining system. A joint effort integrating multiple actors would be essential to achieve an effective and sustainable transition. Finally, this conceptual assessment is not intended to be a roadmap for the whole refining industry. The low-carbon feedstocks explored are selected examples. Multiple additional pathways/feedstocks could be also integrated within the EU refining system subject to the location of the sites and individual company strategies.

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