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Palm oil to diesel: Activists decry Total’s proposed biorefinery

French oil multinational, Total, is stepping up its reliance on palm oil and wants to build a biorefinery in Marseilles to meet supposedly growing demand for diesel fuel. The proposal is said to be contradictory to the European Parliament’s call for biofuels from palm oil to be phased out.

Total refinery

A refinery built by Total

Total intends to invest €275 million to convert a fossil oil refinery in the port of La Mède near Marseilles to a “biorefinery”. The oil multinational hopes to give its business a boost by producing half a million tons of hydrotreated vegetable oil from palm oil and waste materials annually.

In April 2015, Total announced plans to create “a world-class biorefinery” at its La Mède site in southeastern France.

“Our goal is to adapt the site to meet the growing demand for biofuels and play an active role in developing renewable energies. Once on stream, it will be France’s first biorefinery,” said Total.

The La Mède site will include a biorefinery that produce biodiesel from vegetable oils, wastes and residues. The biorefinery will also produce other molecules, such as bio-naphtha for the petrochemicals industry and bio-jet fuel.

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But environmentalists and labour representatives are sounding the alarm over Total’s plans.

Reinhard Behrend of Rainforest Rescue stated: “French oil multinational Total wants to step up the use of palm oil in its diesel fuel and is building a huge ‘biorefinery’ near Marseille.

“Total is bucking the trend: the European Parliament recently moved to phase out palm oil in biofuels as of 2020. Now that lawmakers have finally wrapped their heads around the ‘green’ biofuel scam, we need Total to understand: The palm oil industry is destroying the green lungs of our planet. Please speak out against biofuels!”

According to activists, rainforests are being cleared, people driven from their land and human rights trampled to make way for oil palm plantations.

They disclose that Total’s La Mède refinery will need 650,000 tons of vegetable oil, consisting of 100,000 of used cooking oil, 100,000 tons of palm oil derivatives and 450,000 tons of raw palm oil.

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According to Mireille Villion of the French NGO. Amis de la Terre, that is more than twice the total amount of palm oil currently being consumed in France.

Total justifies the construction of the plant with increasing biofuel and diesel consumption, draft legislation in France and the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive.

The EU, however, is said to have since moved on, as an overwhelming majority across all parties in the European Parliament has called for an end to the use of palm oil and other vegetable oils in biofuels. The motion by the MEPs recommends phasing out the use of vegetable oils for biofuels by 2020.

The European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and Member States are currently negotiating a new version of the Renewable Energy Directive based on a Commission proposal from November 2016 (proposal and annexes).

“Please speak out against Total’s misguided ‘biorefinery’ plans. Hydrotreated vegetable oil is not a ‘green’ biofuel!” the Rainforest Rescue declared in its camapaign.

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A letter to concerned parties to that effect reads:

To: Patrick Pouyanné, Chairman and CEO of Total; relevant policymakers in France and the EU

Dear Mr. Pouyanné, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We call on you to cancel Total’s plans to build a biofuel refinery for vegetable oils such as palm oil in La Mède near Marseille.

All biofuels based on vegetable oil – and palm oil in particular – have a negative climate impact, as the GLOBIOM study produced on behalf of the European Commission states.

Rainforests are being cleared, people driven from their land and human rights trampled to make way for oil palm plantations.

An overwhelming majority of all parties in the European Parliament has called for an end to biofuels from palm oil and other vegetable oils. A motion by the MEPs recommends phasing out the use of vegetable oils for biofuels by 2020.

Yours faithfully,

By Michael Simire

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