More Group III in Total’s Future?


Total S.A. announced recently that a planned upgrade of a Normandy refinery will allow the complex to produce high quality base oils. So far, however, the French energy giant is saying little else about the project.

The worlds fourth-largest international oil company announced April 24 that it will invite bids for engineering, procurement and construction contracts for a Euro 500 million (U.S. $590 million) expansion and upgrade of its Gonfreville refinery near Le Havre. The refinery, Frances largest, is due to receive a new hydrocracker unit, as well as a steam methane reformer to supply hydrogen.

The main purpose of the project is to reduce production of heavy fuel oil in order to enhance flexibility to produce diesel, jet fuel and heating oil. But Total’s statement added that the new unit will also produce high quality base stocks for lubricants and specialty fluids. The company, which changed its name from TotalFinaElf on May 6, plans to begin construction early next year and bring the new units online in 2006.

Total declined last week to provide more details about base oil aspects of the project. An industry consultant, however, observed that it makes sense for the company to increase its capacity to produce premium stocks.

They are a big player in Europes lubricant market, said Geeta Agashe, Director of Petroleum and Energy at the Kline Group of Little Falls, N.J. She suggested that any base oil upgrade would probably add Group III capacity, since Europe does not produce Group II base oils. Totals current Group III capacity is less than 1,000 barrels per day.

There is growing demand in Europe for higher quality base oils and it is only going to continue, Agashe said. Given that [Total has] such a strong position in lubricants, weve said that we expected them to upgrade, although we thought they might go to gas-to-liquids base stocks.

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