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Shell to the Rescue! Pauses Biofuel Plant, Continues Saving the World One Oil Spill at a Time

Posted by John Donovan 2 July 2024

In a move that surprised absolutely no one, Shell has decided to slam the brakes on the construction of one of Europe’s largest biofuel plants. This groundbreaking facility in Rotterdam was supposed to churn out 820,000 tonnes of biofuels a year, half of which would be sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) made from delightful waste cooking oil and animal fat. You know, the stuff that makes your fries taste great.

Airlines, who were giddy at the thought of selling “low-carbon” flights, are now left scratching their heads. But don’t worry, Shell assures us this is just a “temporary pause.” According to Huibert Vigeveno, Shell’s downstream, renewables, and energy solutions director, “Temporarily pausing on-site construction now will allow us to assess the most commercial way forward for the project.” Translation: “We’re figuring out how to make more money off this before pretending to care about the planet again.”

Wael Sawan, Shell’s chief executive, is all about “increasing returns.” Since taking office in January 2023, he’s been busy scrapping renewable projects left and right, selling off hydrogen ventures, and retreating from power markets in Europe and China. And surprise, surprise, Shell’s share price has soared by 11% this year. Who needs a planet when you’ve got profits, right?

Shell Nederland Raffinaderij dropped this bombshell announcement on Tuesday, throwing yet another wrench into the low-carbon dreams of big energy companies. This follows BP’s recent decision to hit pause on all new offshore wind projects, with their new chief Murray Auchincloss deciding that fossil fuels are where the real money’s at. Auchincloss also halted two biofuel projects in Germany and the United States because, apparently, saving the planet isn’t profitable enough.

Despite all this, Shell keeps insisting they’re “committed to our target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.” Vigeveno insists low-carbon fuels are a “key part of Shell’s strategy to help us and our customers profitably decarbonise.” Because nothing says commitment like halting a project mid-construction.

Marjan van Loon, president director of Shell Netherlands, had high hopes for the Rotterdam refinery when it was announced in 2021. She gushed about how the investment would help aviation cut carbon emissions, claiming, “Shell has been on the road to a lower-carbon future for some time.” Ah, the sweet smell of corporate optimism.

Even UBS analyst Joshua Stone chimed in, noting that the pause is “consistent with Shell’s strategy to focus on returns.” He added, “The delays further highlight that the advanced biofuels market is not an easy one. The oil majors have dipped their toes and found it challenging.” Poor oil giants, struggling to figure out how to profit from something other than environmental destruction.

Stay tuned for Shell’s quarterly trading update on Friday, where they’ll no doubt provide more dazzling details on their quest to balance saving the world with making a killing in the oil business.

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