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Total's plans for La Mede HVO feedstock still uncertain

23 Jun 2017 12:41 (+01:00 GMT)
Total's plans for La Mede HVO feedstock still uncertain

Barcelona, 23 June (Argus) — Total's planned 500,000 t/yr hydro treated vegetable oil (HVO) biodiesel plant at La Mede in the south of France will likely rely on imported vegetable oil, notably palm oil, for feedstock and there is uncertainty about whether it can hit its own targets for using waste oils and fats (uco).

Documents released from a regional public enquiry into Total's plans to convert La Mede from a 160,000 b/d oil refinery show the company would not give any figures for how much uco it would finally use there.

Total had originally said it planned to use 252,000 t/yr of uco at La Mede, as part of more environmentally-friendly biodiesel production. This would account for around 40pc of feedstock. Questions were raised at the time over how the firm would access such a large amount.

It signed a 10-year contract with energy services firm Suez for 20,000 t/yr of uco, which the enquiry said underlines a level of commitment to the project from Total. But the firm told the enquiry that France's uco collection industry lacks logistical capabilities and "remains difficult", and said it would need to study other sources of procurement, without giving details. It also said only around 45,000 t/yr of French uco was being collected out of a possible 100,000 t/yr, and still well short of its stated target.

The result is that La Mede will rely on imported vegetable oil, notably palm oil, to act as plant feedstock with that level yet to be determined. The company said it would be open to using waste palm oil distillates (Pfad) as feedstock, with biodiesel made from Pfad currently double-counted against state and EU mandates.

A risk to this is legislation currently passing through the European Parliament, which is considering provisions that could restrict imports of biofuels that drive deforestation, including palm oil.

Total appears unconvinced by arguments surrounding land use changes (Iluc) and their effect on emissions levels. The firm said in responses to questions that Iluc is a "hypothesis which lacks consensus," and that European biodiesel producers think the findings of Iluc studies are "ultimately of little use."

The enquiry also looked at the environmental impact of the conversion, with favourable conclusions largely resulting from the closure of an oil refinery, replaced by a much smaller part of the site being used to produce HVO and pre-treat vegetable oil feedstock. Around one third of La Mede's site will continue to be in use, but this will also include 1.3mn m³ of oil product storage.

Total told the enquiry its move to cease refining at La Mede was a result of falling demand in Europe for oil products, with the plant losing in excess of €100mn/yr ($111mn/yr) for over five years prior to being shut. It said the rise in US tight and shale oil output "favoured US refining" at a time when refining capacity was growing in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. With the prospect of tighter environmental standards for fuel oil, Total was then reluctant to invest in upgrading the facility, or to correct "weak energy efficiency and elevated maintenance costs."

The enquiry from the regional council of Chateauneuf les Martigues approved the €275mn conversion of the site, including construction of the HVO plant. La Mede will also produce 25,000 t/yr of bio-naphtha and 30,000 t/yr of bio-LPG.

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