French oil giant Total has partnered with energy company Engie to build and operate a renewable hydrogen production site in France to support production of biofuel, the companies announced on 13 January.

Located within Total’s La Mède biorefinery, the Masshylia project at Châteauneuf-les-Martigues will be powered by solar farms with a total capacity of more than 100MW.

The 500,000 tonnes/year La Mède biorefinery started up production in 2019 and produces hydrotreated vegetable oil. The biorefinery had faced several delays and controversy over its use of imported palm oil as a feedstock and Total has pledged to process no more than 300,000 tonnes/year of palm oil and at least 50,000 tonnes of French-grown rapeseed.

Total said its 40MW electrolyser would produce five tonnes/day of green hydrogen for use in the biofuel production process at the biorefinery, leading to a 15,000 tonnes/year reduction in CO₂ emissions.

“This renewable hydrogen production facility, combined with our expertise in solar energy, is a further step in our commitment to get to net zero by 2050” said Philippe Sauquet, president of Gas, Renewables & Power at Total.

Features of the project include a digital piloting system for the continuous supply of hydrogen with real-time management of solar electricity production, large-scale hydrogen storage and a direct current connection between a photovoltaic farm and the electrolyser to improve the energy balance.

Beyond the project’s first phase, the partners said they had the ability to develop new renewable farms for the electrolyser, which has the capacity to produce up to 15 tonnes of green hydrogen/day at a later stage.

Construction of the facility was expected to begin in 2022, following the completion of the advanced engineering study, with a view to starting production in 2024 subject to the necessary financial support and public authorisations.