French oil and gas giant Total SA is delaying the start-up of its 500,000 tonnes/year biofuel refinery in La Mede to the first quarter of 2019, Reuters reports.

Total chief financial officer Patrick de la Chevardiere made the announcement on 26 October but did not give a reason for the delay.

In 2015, Total converted the loss-making La Mede facility in southeastern France from a crude oil refinery into a biodiesel plant with a U$200M investment. Production was supposed to start in the summer.

Total was granted a license on 16 May to use palm oil at La Mede, provided that at least 25% of its feedstock would be recycled oils, wrote Reuters.

This project has been seen as controversial by French farmers, who are concerned that cheap palm oil feedstock will lead to unfair competition. The farmers – who grow crops such as rapeseed which is also used for biodiesel –blockaded Total’s oil depots and refineries in June.

Total has pledged to buy then 50,000 tonnes/year of French rapeseed oil for the refinery, Reuters wrote.

It said the facility’s feedstock would comprise 60-70% vegetable oils, with a limit of 300,000 tonnes/year of crude palm oil, and the other vegetable oils coming from oilseeds such as rapeseed, sunflower and corn. The remaining 30-40% share would come from recycled animal fat, cooking oil and industrial oil.