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  • Writer's pictureRon Kotrba

Total converting Grandpuits refinery to produce renewable diesel, SAF, bioplastics, solar power

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

French multinational oil company Total SE is moving forward with a second conversion of one of its oil refineries to produce renewables. The company will spend more than $500 million euros on an extensive project that, in part, involves retrofitting its Grandpuits refinery in the Seine-et-Marne region of north-central France to produce 170,000 tons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), 120,000 tons of renewable diesel, and 50,000 tons of renewable naphtha, which will be used to produce bioplastics on-site.

Photo: Total SE

The unit will primarily process animal fats from Europe and used cooking oil, supplemented with other vegetable oil feedstocks such as rapeseed oil. Total explicitly says it will exclude use of contentious palm oil at the Grandpuits refinery, and that it will prioritize local suppliers.

The project will also incorporate plastics recycling as well as the operation of two photovoltaic solar power plants―one with 28 MWp capacity at the Grandpuits refinery and the other with 24 MWp capacity at Total's Gargenville site.

Crude oil refining at the Grandpuits refinery will be halted in Q1 of next year, and storage of petroleum products will cease in late 2023.

"This decision to end its oil refining comes in the wake of an audit conducted over several months on the 260-kilometer Ile-de-France pipeline (PLIF), which carries crude oil from the Port of Le Havre to the Grandpuits refinery," Total stated. "The refinery was forced to shut down for more than five months in 2019 when a leak appeared on the PLIF, following an earlier leak near Le Havre in 2014. With the approval of government officials, the PLIF's maximum working pressure was reduced to ensure safe operation. As a result, the refinery could operate at only 70 percent of its capacity, threatening its long-term financial viability."

According to Total, the audit found that normal operations at the refinery could only be restored by replacing the PLIF at a cost of almost 600 million euros.

"Given France's plans for the energy transition up to 2040, therefore, Total has decided to end its oil refining at Grandpuits and embark on an industrial transformation of the site, backed by a major investment plan," the company stated.

Bernard Pinatel, president of Total Refining & Chemicals, said, "With the industrial repurposing of the Grandpuits refinery into a zero-crude platform focused on energies of the future connected with biomass and the circular economy, Total is demonstrating its commitment to the energy transition and reaffirming its ambition to achieve carbon neutrality in Europe by 2050. Grandpuits will remain a major industrial site drawing on the know-how and expertise of its teams, and our partner firms will be playing a key role as well."

Total says the Grandpuits conversion project will involve no layoffs but will include reassignments and early retirements. "Of the 400 jobs at the Grandpuits platform and its associated Gargenville (Yvelines) depot today, 250 will be maintained after the conversion," the company stated. "Furthermore, 15 additional jobs will be created on the Grandpuits site in a packaging unit connected to the bioplastics unit. In addition, the work projects generated by this industrial investment of more than 500 million euros will create up to 1,000 jobs over the three-year period for construction of the new units."

In early 2015, Total announced the intention to convert its underperforming La Mède oil refinery in the south of France to produce renewable diesel, which, at the time, was one of the first oil refineries to do so in Europe following Eni's 2012 retrofit project of its petroleum refinery in Venice, Italy.

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