The development of bioenergies, like that of other low-carbon businesses1, is central to our ambition to become the responsible energy major. As pioneers in biofuels, which we have been producing for more than 20 years, and active participants in the production of bioplastics, we have a role in the sector’s future and the development of all biomass conversion pathways.
Bioenergies: Helping to Reconcile Growth and Climate Change
A renewable, low-carbon resource, biomass encompasses all organic material derived from plants and animals.
Biomass can be converted to produce biofuels and bioplastics, and thereby help meet three major challenges.
Meeting the Energy Needs of a Growing World Population
The increase in global energy needs goes hand in hand with global population growth and economic and social development. In the transportation sector, energy needs are increasing by 1% per year. Demand for plastics is growing by 4% annually.
Limiting Global Warming
According to the 2°C scenario put forward by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which Total uses as a reference in its strategy, the world economy must undertake major changes in order to limit energy-related carbon emissions. One of the drivers identified to achieve this shift is an increase in the share of renewable energies, particularly through the development of biofuels.
More than 20% of worldwide CO2 emissions are attributable to transportation. Biofuels are key to reducing this sector’s environmental footprint, as biomass today represents the only renewable alternative to fossil fuels in the production of liquid fuels, on which transportation still largely depends. A significant amount of legislation has been passed to encourage and channel the development of biofuels. In Europe, for example, 10% of transportation fuel must come from renewable sources by 2020.
Also offering interesting prospects for reducing the environmental footprint is the development of bioplastics. Polylactic acid (PLA) polymers, for example, are biodegradable and less carbon-intensive than conventional polymers.
Adapting to the Changing Expectations of Customers and Society
Conscious of the urgency of combating climate change and sensitive to the issue of sustainable development, our customers are adapting their behavior and expect solutions with a lower environmental impact, including biofuels and bioplastics.
Preparing the Future of Biofuels and Bioplastics
To achieve our ambition of becoming a leader of biofuels and developing innovative bioplastics, we are actively working on all solutions for converting biomass.
We are involved in the two major biomass conversion pathways:
- Thermochemical conversion, which enables biomass to be transformed into a wide range of molecules, through the combined action of pressure, temperature and often a catalyst.
- Biotechnology, which uses microorganisms, such as yeast or bacteria, to convert biomass into targeted molecules.
These two pathways are flexible and can be used separately or together to produce a wide array of products from a variety of resources. However, many challenges still lie ahead.
The bioproducts currently available on the market are mainly produced from vegetable oils and sugars. The conversion of resources such as lignocellulose (plant waste) or microalgae (microorganisms that can directly transform CO2 and light into molecules of interest for our markets) is still in the R&D stage.
Total is present across the entire value chain, from R&D to industrial production.
Developing Our Position as a Producer and Retailer of Bioproducts Through Major Industrial Projects
As a pioneer in biofuels, since 1994 Total has been producing ethyl tert-butyl ether (ETBE), a gasoline additive, as well as hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), which is used for diesel. We are also Europe’s leading retailer of biofuels, with 2.2 million metric tons incorporated in 2015, and we have developed in-depth knowledge of the markets and customers.
To achieve our ambition of becoming a leader in biofuel markets, we are in the process of transforming our La Mède refinery in France into a world-class biorefinery. One of the largest facilities of its kind in Europe, it will be operational by mid-2018 and produce 500,000 metric tons per year of HVO-type biofuels in order to continue to meet growing demand.
On the bioplastics market, we want to develop innovative products that meet the challenges of sustainable development and enable our customers to embrace more conscientious consumption. We are focusing particularly on polylactic acid (PLA), a fully biobased and biodegradable polymer with a carbon footprint one third that of conventional polymers. PLA is currently used mainly in food packaging and textiles as well as in the medical, electronic and automotive industries, and is one of the first renewable polymers able to compete with existing polymers in terms of performance.
In March 2017, we joined forces with Corbion to create the Total Corbion PLA joint venture, which will produce and market PLA-based bioplastics. Our ambition is to become the world’s number two supplier of PLA. A world-class PLA plant with a capacity of 75,000 metric tons per year is presently under construction in Thailand, with production expected to begin in mid-2018.
Harnessing Cutting-Edge R&D to Develop Tomorrow’s Bioproducts
Biofuel and bioplastic development still poses challenges, most of which relate to technology and economics. As part of our ambition to become the responsible energy major, one of our goals consists in developing technologies to broaden the range of usable resources and designing innovative products, while still addressing the issues of sustainability and competitiveness.
For more than ten years, our R&D teams have harnessed their expertise to bring to light tomorrow’s bioproducts. The utilization of lignocellulose (plant waste) and microalgae (microorganisms that can transform CO2 directly into molecules of interest for our markets) are two focuses of our efforts.
We conduct our research as part of joint projects and top-tier partnerships with start-ups and academic and industrial players, including Novogy, Renmatix and Amyris, not to mention the Futurol and BioTfueL consortiums. Developed with five partners, the BioTfueL project aims to transform lignocellulosic biomass such as straw, forest wastes and dedicated crops into biofuels using a thermochemical pathway.
Microalgae also offers promising prospects. To demonstrate the industrial potential of this resource, Total is conducting a variety of R&D projects in partnership with players in the research world, such as France’s CEA and China’s Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology, as well as universities and other industrial companies (the AlgaePARC project, the European Magnificent project).