Total starts up one of Europe’s biggest bio-refineries
The French oil company, Total, is starting up its La Mède refinery for biofuels, near Marseille after a delay of one year. With a capacity of 500.000 tons of biodiesel and so-called ‘biojet’ for aviation, its one of Europe’s most significant. But it’s not welcomed by environmentalists at all.
The latter accuse Total of contributing to the deforestation in the world, South-East Asia in particular, where palm oil is produced massively at the expense of the forests. The refinery will process 60 to 70% of vegetal oils, of which a maximum of 300.000 tons of imported palm oil, as agreed with the French authorities.
50.000 tons of coleseed
Using 50.000 tons of French grown coleseed was another requirement of the government to grant the license. The rest of the raw materials used are fats from animal origin or used frying oils, making up 30 to 40%. Next to the refinery, Total built a solar park that can provide electricity for 13.000 people.
“Biofuel is renewable energy and a solution that is available right away to reduce CO2 emissions,” Total’s refinery director, Bernard Pinatel, defends the 275 million euros investment the company did to convert the oil refinery into a bio-refinery. But that is only partially true and contested by environmentalists.
The claim of the industry is based on the assumption that the CO2 emissions when using biofuel are compensated by the fact that the plants are capturing CO2 by photosynthesis during their growing process.
But scientists contradict this saying this doesn’t take into account the effect of using agricultural machines emitting CO2, the usage of fertilizers, the production process in refineries and the deforestation. These ‘indirect emissions’ were also not taken into account when the EU adopted the rule all car fuels to be 10% ‘renewable’ by 2020.
1,8 times more CO2 than diesel
When using biofuels, CO2 emissions are 1,8 times higher than with regular diesel. Even three times higher in the case of palm oil. Bio-ethanol, also from vegetable origin, that is used to mix with gasoline, on the other hand, produces only half of the CO2 emissions.
Another argument against using vegetal oil of purposely grown plants is that they take up large surfaces of farming land that should be reserved to produce food.
In December 2018, things got even more complicated for Total when the majority of French members of parliament voted late at night an amendment – against the will of the government – to exclude products based on palm oil by 2020 from the list of biofuels. That could mean the loss of a tax benefit of 100 million euros for the refinery in La Mède.