Total moves ahead with La Mede at biodiesel refinery

French oil giant Total is set to start up its La Mede biorefinery after several delays and controversy over its use of imported palm oil as a feedstock.

Production at th­­e 500,000 tonnes/year refinery in southern France was due to begin in two weeks, Total’s chief executive Patrick Pouyanne told journalists on 29 May.

Local farmers had expressed concern about palm oil competing with locally-produced vegetable oil and environmental activists cited the deforestation caused producing it, Reuters wrote.

In 2015, Total announced it would invest €200M (US$223M) to convert the loss-making La Mede facility from a crude oil refinery into a biorefinery plant using Axens’ Vegan process technology. It pledged that palm oil would account for less than half of its feedstock.

The European Commission (EC) concluded in February that the use of palm oil in transportation fuel should be phased out. However, in its delegated act published on 21 May to supplement the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive II, it exempted palm oil produced by smallholders and palm oil produced on degraded land.

Total hoped the exemptions would help convince France to overturn its plan to end subsidies for adding palm oil to diesel, Reuters wrote. The French National Assembly voted on 19 December to end tax incentives for adding palm oil to diesel fuel as of 2020.

“We can have a refinery that is competitive,” Pouyanne said. “If French law is not changed, La Mede will not be competitive with its European peers.”

Total said last year that its feedstock supply would consist of 60-70% vegetable oil from palm, rapeseed, sunflower, carinata and soyabean oils, as well as distillers corn oil. The remaining 30-40% would come from animal fat, used cooking oil and residues from waste or the pulp and paper industry. It had committed to using less than 300,000 tonnes of crude palm oil per year at La Mede.