Global oil giant Shell has announced plans to re-purpose its Gulf Coast refinery in Louisiana, USA, to produce hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), the Houston Chronicle wrote.

The US$1.48bn project’s first phase would include a low carbon fuels facility unit to produce renewable diesel and SAF from plant oils, animal fats and used cooking oils, the report said.

The company was quoted as saying that it was close to reaching a final investment decision on the project.

Plans to repurpose the Convent site, northwest of New Orleans, are the first in a series of projects Shell is considering at its chemical facilities along the Gulf Coast to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels, according to the 29 September report. The regional spending plan, which was still under discussion, could reportedly cost as much as US$10bn.

Shell is also considering new projects at facilities in Deer Park, east of Houston, and Geismar and Norco, in Louisiana, to help the company reduce emissions and provide reduced-carbon products and chemicals needed to advance the energy transition, according to the report.

“It's a very significant investment in the region,” Emma Lewis, Shell’s senior vice president of Gulf Coast chemicals and products, was quoted as saying.

“If you looked at Louisiana and you thought about it as a country, it would be number three or four in the Shell portfolio. Between the Gulf of Mexico offshore assets and chemicals and products, onshore assets, it's a hugely important place for Shell, not just in terms of our earnings today, but also in the future.”

Shell was prioritising projects in the region based on the most in demand low-carbon products, Lewis said, which now included biodiesel and SAF.

Hydrogen was already in demand as a transportation fuel, she said, so the company was considering producing it at the Convent site.

The Norco plant, meanwhile, would continue to produce traditional gasoline and distillate fuels.

“All of our customers are in very different places in this transition,” Lewis said. “Some of them already want low-carbon or circular products. Some of them only want low-carbon and circular products in some of their consumer goods, and some of them aren't really ready to make that switch.”

According to its website, the company shut down the plant – located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans – in November 2020 saying the decision was “part of the company’s global strategy to invest in a core set of… integrated manufacturing sites… for the transition to a low-carbon future”.

Before its shutdown, the Convent refinery processed approximately 240,000 barrels/day (bpd) of crude oil, producing conventional petroleum products and refinery grade sulphur.