Total Inches Closer to Group III Expansion


Total said last week that it has begun a basic engineering study for the installation of equipment that would add 180,000 metric tons per year of Group III base oil capacity to its refinery in Gonfreville, France. The study marks a step forward in a project that has been much anticipated but long delayed.

Total spokeswoman Bertille Aron told Lube Report last week that the company recently began studying the possibility of adding a catalytic dewaxing unit that would process hydrocracker bottoms into Group III base oils. The study will not be finished until the end of this year, and management will wait until then to make a final decision about whether to install the unit. As currently envisioned, Aron said, the project would cost 234 million (U.S. $315 million), would have capacity to make 180,000 tons per year (3,500 barrels per day) of Group III stocks, and would come online by the beginning of 2011. She added, though, that some details may change when a final decision is made.

The Gonfreville refinery already has a base oil plant with capacity to make 515,000 tons per year. Of that amount, 475,000 t/y is Group I and 40,000 t/y is Group III.

As currently contemplated, Totals project would increase Western Europes Group III capacity by approximately one-third. The company has not discussed whether the fluid would be used internally or sold on the open market, but lubricant blenders would undoubtedly welcome the influx to the market. The regions appetite for highly refined base oils has grown in recent years, and blenders have turned increasingly to Group III and Group II imports to satisfy their needs.

Talk of a Group III expansion at Gonfreville has circulated the industry for several years. Last year the refinery installed a 550 million hydrocracker. Its primary purpose is to make low-sulfur diesel fuel and kerosene, but it also yields a substantial volume of hydrocracker bottoms, which can be isomerized into Group III base stocks or further cracked into fuels.

Total officials have cited several reasons for delays in the decision about whether to install the catalytic dewaxing unit. At one point they said they were considering whether it would be better to create the companys own Group III supply or to purchase from plants being planned in the Middle East. Last year officials said they had been put off by a shortage of human resources for refinery projects and by a strike by union employees at Gonfreville.

Last week Aron suggested that labor concerns have eased, presumably since Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president of France in May, partly on a pledge to reform liberal labor policies.

The social environment is sufficient again for the project to move forward, Aron said.

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