Energy group Total starts biofuel production at La Mede refinery

PARIS, July 3 (Reuters) - French oil and gas major Total said on Wednesday that the first batches of biofuel had come off the production line at its converted La Mede refinery in the south of France.

The biorefinery has a capacity of 500,000 tonnes per year. It will produce both biodiesel and biojet fuel for the aviation industry, and Total added it would also produce premium hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), known as renewable diesel.

Total invested 275 million euros ($310.4 million) to convert the previous loss-making crude refinery so that it now produces biofuels.

“Biofuels are fully renewable, and an immediately available solution to cut carbon emissions from ground and air transportation,” Bernard Pinatel, Total’s president for refining and chemicals, said in a statement.

When produced from sustainable raw materials, they emit over 50% less carbon than fossil fuels, Pinatel said, adding that the refinery at La Mede will help France curb biofuels imports.

Total has said it will produce the biofuels using around 60% to 70% sustainable vegetable oils including rapeseed, palm oil and sunflower oil, and 30% to 40% from treated waste from animal fats, cooking oil and residues.

Total has come under criticism from farmers who have expressed concern that imported palm oil for the refinery would unfairly compete with locally produced vegetable oil, while environmental activists against the refinery, citing the deforestation caused by palm oil production.

Total said that as part of its agreement with the government, it has committed to using no more than 300,000 tonnes of palm oil per year or less than 50% of the total volume of raw materials needed.

It said that at least 50,000 tonnes of French-grown rapeseed oil would be used in the refinery.

$1 = 0.8860 euros Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta