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Why the Wood Pellet Industry Is Growing

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Thursday January 14th, 2010 | 5 Comments

The European demand for biomass pellets is fueling a growth in the North American wood pellet industry, according to a New York Times article last month. The British publication, The Timber Trades Journal, said that the North American wood pellet industry grew “six-fold from a capacity of just over one million tons to more than six million tons in the last five years.”

The Timber Trades Journal article said the U.S. South, with its abundant forests, is expected to become the leading wood-pellet region in North America. The New York Times mentioned Arkansas-based NexGen Biomass, a start-up with plans to build a 150-employee plant capable of producing 440,000 tons of wood pellets a year. NexGen Biomass officials said pine pulpwood will be converted into wood pellets to be used as fuel in Europe.

Phoenix Renewable Energy began to build a $110 million pellet processing plant in Arkansas in August. The plant is located on the site of a former paper mill. The company plans to build four more plants in Arkansas.

Sam Anderson, CEO of Phoenix Renewable Energy, credits the Obama administration and the European Union’s cap-and-trade program for making the plant a “practical idea.” “I believe if it were not for the Obama administration’s stimulus plan (and) concept of a new economy, the business we’re about to engage in would not be possible,” he said.

Are wood pellets environmentally friendly?

An April Treehugger.com article said that if produced in “environmentally sustainable ways and used efficiently,” biomass can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions up to 98 percent compared to coal. However, the article pointed out that if biomass is not used efficiently and not from environmentally sustainable sources, the overall emissions are more than using natural gas.

A report by the British group AEA for the Environment found that GHG emissions from energy produced by biomass are “generally, but not always, less than fossil fuels.” According to the report land use “can negate any emission savings.”

International standards that verify biomass pellets come from sustainable sources do not exist yet. The British start-up, Pellet Zone Ltd. (PZL), which recently launched an international trading service to bring biomass producers and power plants together, uses the third party verification specialist SGS to verify the pellets it trades in are from “sustainable renewable sources.” Pellets must meet the following criteria:

  • Not result in a net release of carbon from vegetable and soil
  • Not jeopardize food supply or communities where biomass is essential for subsistence
  • Not adversely affect protected or vulnerable biodiversity
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Enhance, protect and/or improve soil, air and water quality
  • Improve local prosperity and well being of employees and local population where biomass is produced

Heating with wood pellets

Wood pellet stoves are about 80 to 85 percent efficient and produce very little ash. But while they work well and users can avoid the headache of splitting wood, they do require electricity to run a small motor and an auger that feeds the pellets into the stove, so users who are off the grid need some source of power. And on the other side of the spectrum, urban users may find themselves limited by laws in some cities that prohibit the use of pellet stoves when air quality is poor.


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  • Mary

    I want to buy wood pellets near Charleston, SC.

    I have run out of places to look for information. Jen suggested Google and commenting here.
    I don't ask questions without doing massive research first. My research on this has included looking with every search engine, phone calls to twenty brick and mortar stores, joining
    and reading on several sites, and screaming at my computer. All of it has been a waste of
    my time. I will not pay the high shipping costs.

    http://www.amazon.com/Pennington-Seed-P90001-Wo
    $6.29 + $234.59 shipping

    http://www.ruralking.com/checkout/cart/
    $4.99 + $24.69 shipping

    http://www.jaxmercantile.com/search.php?mode=se
    $4.19 + 48.44 shipping

  • Mary

    I want to buy wood pellets near Charleston, SC.

    I have run out of places to look for information. Jen suggested Google and commenting here.
    I don't ask questions without doing massive research first. My research on this has included looking with every search engine, phone calls to twenty brick and mortar stores, joining
    and reading on several sites, and screaming at my computer. All of it has been a waste of
    my time. I will not pay the high shipping costs.

    http://www.amazon.com/Pennington-Seed-P90001-Wo
    $6.29 + $234.59 shipping

    http://www.ruralking.com/checkout/cart/
    $4.99 + $24.69 shipping

    http://www.jaxmercantile.com/search.php?mode=se
    $4.19 + 48.44 shipping

  • Jonathan Shirely

    My company is looking for domestic buyers of industrial wood pellets here in North America. We are building a pellet facility in Northern Michigan that can produce 100,000 tons annually. Please contact me if your in need of pellets.
    jonathanshirely@miglge.com

  • Kdpalmer

    The reason you sited under “Heating with wood pellets” is exactly the reason the Bradley Burner was invented (holds a Canadian Patent, US Pending).  This burner was designed to burn pellets in an air tight woodstove or fireplace insert.  It was originally developed in Nova Scotia where power outages happed quite regularily. The Pellet stove seemed like a nice option until our neighbours experience their week long power outage and no heat!  So there it begun.  Now you can burn pellets in your existing appliance and for a fraction of the cost!  kdpalmer@rogers.com

  • Meligy Meligy Ahmed

    WE NEED Manufacturing MACHINE OF THE WOOD PELLET