The wood pellet industry has had a long period of growth and is even more optimistic about the future. That took place in October 12th industrial pellet forum instead and the current state of the industry was discussed. At the specialist event in Berlin, 310 wood pellet players from 32 countries exchanged views on the expansion and challenges of the international pellet industry and coordinated the common approach. BiomassMuse was first represented as a media partner at the pellet forum and gives a final summary of the topics discussed in this article.
Use of wood pellets in Germany
Wood pellets are one of the few renewable energy sources that are already significantly cheaper than the fossil alternatives. In combination with the better carbon footprint of solid bioenergy sources and the advantages of more regional production, the lower price has prompted many consumers to switch to wood pellets. In Europe alone, 60.000 new pellet heating systems were installed this year, of which 20.000 are in Germany. The German Pellet Institute (DEPI) assumes that in the current year an increase of more than 4 pellet heating systems can be achieved for the first time in 20.000 years.
The Wood energy in Germany is experiencing a real boom and after the rapid expansion of gaseous bioenergy, solid bioenergy is currently enjoying great interest among consumers. However, one should not forget that the average output of pellet plants is significantly lower than that of Biogas plants. A direct comparison of both bioenergy markets via the increase in the number of plants is therefore only possible to a limited extent.
The following graphic shows the development of production, production capacity and consumption of wood pellets over the past 7 years.
International trade in wood pellets is becoming increasingly important
As with every product that is manufactured, the question of the ideal size of a production plant also arises with wood pellets. The same applies to the "small energy giants": the larger the wood pellet system, the lower the production costs per unit and the lower the price for the end customer. In the case of wood pellets, the question of decentralization in production and consumption touches on a sensitive point, as the larger the size of the plant, the longer the feed radius for the wood must. This endangers the regional supply of wood pellets. While the length of the transport routes and the carbon footprint of fossil fuels are usually neglected, consumers of regenerative wood pellets often want their fuel to have a high ecological value. At this point, it will be exciting to see how the pellet industry will come to an agreement with its customers in the years to come.
In this context, the partnership in the production and consumption of wood pellets between Canada and Europe was discussed at the Pellets Forum. For example, Gordon Murray of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC) reported that the use of wood pellets in Canada has not been competitive for a long time due to low natural gas prices. This situation is changing slowly and Canada is investing in expanding its own production capacities. Europe is an interesting sales market for Canadian wood pellets due to its good general conditions. In 2011, around 120.000 tons of wood pellets were sold to two European producers. An obstacle to an even more intensive cooperation is the lack of a pellet port with appropriate loading technology in the Canadian area. Without this, it is hardly possible to sell the Canadian pellets economically to Europe. The logistical challenge is currently the central problem for supplying Europe with Canadian wood.
On the European side, the infrastructure for timber imports has improved significantly in recent years. The most important transshipment point for international timber imports to Europe is here Biomass port in Rotterdam. Hugo du Mez, Business Developer at Port of Rotterdam, presented the biomass strategy of the Rotterdam energy port. In addition to the numerous opportunities, he also spoke about the risks.
“The international transport of wood pellets is becoming expensive and at the expense of the carbon footprint. Both are factors that can be decisive for the continued use of wood pellets in Europe. ”- Hugo du Mez
The port management of Rotterdam is convinced of the growth potential of bioenergy and is significantly expanding the stocks and production stocks for biofuels and woody biomass. That's how it was in the port last year largest biodiesel plant in Europe opened, which is operated by Neste Oil. Even the opening of the first Biomass exchange in Europe It is no coincidence that 2011 is the largest port on the continent. In addition, a syngas cluster is being set up to research the processing of solid energy sources such as coal and biomass.
A crucial role for an improved transport of wood pellets is the increase in the size of the ship, so that the logistics costs can be reduced. The dizzying numbers are that in 2000 the largest ships were able to transport between 750 and 2.000 tons. It is currently 40.000 tons and in 2018, according to Mr. du Mez, it will be 80.000 tons.
Black pellets and Torrefaction increase the energy efficiency of wood pellets
The biggest problem with wood energy is the lower calorific value of the energy sources compared to coal or petroleum. As a result, the transport costs per unit of energy are higher, which puts a burden on the profitability calculation for long-distance transport. The pellet industry is currently looking for solutions to this problem and has already launched a number of promising approaches.
Two central terms that were discussed a lot at the industry forum for wood pellets are "Torrefaction" and "Black Pellets". The procedures of torrefaction or Hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) aim to upgrade white pellets to black pellets. White pellets are the classic wood pellets that are currently available for purchase and which, with the ENplus seal, guarantee the same quality at all times. Black pellets are still further processed wood pellets which were produced by the Torrefaction process. By cracking (exothermic reaction) the biomass, Torrefaction increases the calorific value of the final energy source and lowers its water content. There is more about this rediscovered process of charring in Suncoal vodcast on biochar.
Further improve the storage and sustainability of wood pellets
Finally, further key issues are mentioned below, which were discussed at the 2012 Pellets Forum:
- Further improvement of the industrial storage of wood pellets and related safety problems (fire risk in large silos). Further development of the VDI guideline 3464.
- Improvement of Sustainability and the carbon footprint of wood pellets as part of the general sustainability debate on bioenergy
- Fine dust reduction in domestic wood-burning systems
- Optimization of the pelleting process for the production of wood pellets from straw-like biomass
What do you think about the use of a wood pellet plant or what keeps you from switching to this energy source?