Total says French palm oil curb threatens La Mede biodiesel plant

French energy group Total SA says the French National Assembly’s decision to exclude palm oil as a biofuel feedstock could put its La Mede biodiesel refinery in southern France at risk, The Star reports.

On 19 December, the assembly voted to end tax incentives for adding palm oil to diesel fuel as of 2020. French parliamentarians also decided to treat palm biodiesel as a regular fuel so it cannot count towards Europe´s targets for renewable energy in transport.

"I hope lawmakers, who voted for this amendment … without realising the consequences, will revert to a more reasonable position," Total chief executive Patrick Pouyanne told French daily Le Figaro. "This potentially casts doubt on the viability of the [La Mede] production line, the overall profitability of the site and the maintaining of jobs in a factory where Total has invested €275M (US$316M)."
In 2015, Total converted the loss-making La Mede facility from a crude oil refinery into a 500,000 tonnes/year biodiesel plant. It pledged that palm oil in would account for less than half of its feedstock, the remainder being French rapeseed crops and recycled oil.

Pouyanne said criticism of palm oil production was excessive since it took up less land than other oilseed crops, and he supported the use of certified sustainable palm oil.

The French decision has caused tensions with palm oil producers in Malaysia and Indonesia. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said he will be writing to French President Emmanuel Macron on the issue and that the restrictions would affect the country’s relations with Europe.