PARIS (Reuters) - Total is set to start up a biodiesel refinery using palm oil whose planned launch last summer sparked opposition from farmers producing vegetable oil and from environmental activists.
The refinery in La Mede in southern France will begin production in two weeks, Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne told journalists on the sidelines of the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday.
“Operationally the project is starting,” he said.
The start-up of the 500,000 tonne-per-year refinery has been delayed several times.
Farmers expressed concern about palm oil competing with locally produced vegetable oil and environmental activists cited the deforestation caused in producing it.
Palm oil cultivation results in excessive deforestation and its use in transport fuel should be phased out, the European Commission concluded in February, although it granted some exemptions production by smallholdings or on unused land.
Total, which has invested around 200 million euros ($223 million) to convert the loss-making crude refining unit to biodiesel, hopes those exemptions help convince France to overturn its plan to end subsides for adding palm oil to diesel.
“We can have a refinery that is competitive,” Pouyanne said. If the French law is not changed, La Mede will not be competitive with its European peers,” he said.
Total has committed to use less than 300,000 tonnes of crude palm oil per year at La Mede out of a total of 650,000 tonnes, with the rest coming from oils from other plants, recycled animal fat, cooking oil and industrial oil.
Reporting by Bate Felix, writing by Sybille de La Hamaide, editing by Gus Trompiz and Jason Neely