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Total future bio-refinery arouses concerns among its competitors

France's present production of biofuels amounts to 2,2 million tons. -SIPA


Total intends to convert its La Mède refinery into a biofuel production unit. Other actors of the sector show deep concerns with this upcoming competition.
French biofuel producers vehemently oppose Total’s project for its La Mède refinery, one major opponent being the Avril group (formerly known as Sofiproteol). Last week, the oil major announced that it intends to stop refining raw oil by late 2016 in this site located in Bouches-du-Rhône, in order to convert this production site for biofuel production.

france3-régions.francetvinfo: La Mède refinery in Bouches-du-Rhône

The group expects to build the French first major bio-refinery, which would range among the largest bio-refineries in Europe, producing yearly some 500,000 tons from 2017.
This competition is denounced by advance by industrials, asserting that this decision may doom employment in the sector. “A production unit increasing by 25% the national production will undoubtedly threaten the existing plants, says Kristell Guizouarn, president of Esterifrance, the professional representative of the sector.  Indeed, the farming and industrial biofuel sector amounts to 20.000 jobs in France. “. Oleaginous producers set off the alarm on Friday, concerned to see the national production of colza cut by a quarter of its present surface.

Although Total is aware that its project is over-scaled compared with France’s production (2,2 millions tons in 2013), the group asserts that it won’t overshadow the present biofuel producers. “The market is buoyant and France now imports some 400,000 tons of biofuels yearly. There is some place for everybody!” it claims. »
Today, the green energy part in fuels remains negligible. After months of discussions, the European Commission, Parliament and Board decided to limit the first generation biofuel incorporation rate by 7% (made from farming products), in order to control the use of arable surfaces dedicated to other productions than foodstuff cultures. On its side, France has increased this threshold from 7% to 8% on January, 1st.  “But Europe sets a biofuel incorporation rate of 10% by 2020 and France intends to give itself a target of 15% of green energy in transport, by 2030”, adds Total.

The sector has just been restructured
Nevertheless, all biofuels produced in France must comply by this limit, as must do some parts of biofuels, to be produced in Total’s unit in the future. The group forecasts to incorporate vegetable oils from 60 up to 70% in its production: these biofuels will labelled “first generation” as such. The remaining part (from 30 to 40%) will be produced from used oil, like frying oils for instance.
Other producers are afraid that the oil group takes on their market share by using imported palm oil particularly, which is less expensive. ”Total, acting as the main client of the French sector, may oust other producers, and that possible situation would profit to its own biofuel”, highlights Kristell Guizouarn, recording that the sector has just been restructured in France. In 2013, after a governmental decision limiting the biofuel rate to 7%, the Avril group was compelled to reduce its production capacities by 20% in France, so the production fell from 2 to 1,6 million tons, closing thus two production units.
Nonetheless, confident in a growing demand, Total bets on the quality of its upcoming biofuel: in fact its production would consist in HVO (hydrogenated vegetable oil), completely mixable to fuel and being thus incorporated without any limit, conversely to present esters, which contain oxygen molecules.

Going further...
(The EU policy about biofuels)