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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wood pellets becoming a major US export - from the South, at least

Wood pellets for burning are a high-profile alternative energy source in New England, but a new report shows that it’s the Southeast that is turning them into a big export commodity.

A report by Wood Resources International released Tuesday said the U.S. surpassed Canada this year as the world’s leading exporter of wood pellets for fuel, largely because of exports to Europe, where biomass heat and power are a much larger part of the energy picture. Finland, for example, produces 20 percent of its total energy from wood, while Austria is not far behind. ...

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Wood pellets for burning are a high-profile alternative energy source in New England, but a new report shows that it’s the Southeast that is turning them into a big export commodity.

A report by Wood Resources International released Tuesday said the U.S. surpassed Canada this year as the world’s leading exporter of wood pellets for fuel, largely because of exports to Europe, where biomass heat and power are a much larger part of the energy picture. Finland, for example, produces 20 percent of its total energy from wood, while Austria is not far behind.

“Three companies announced plans for constructing pellet plants in the state of Georgia in the third quarter of 2012. With six other pellet export plants already under construction and scheduled to begin operating in regions as widespread as Virginia to Texas, it is possible an additional 4.2 million tons of wood pellets will be crossing to Europe in 2015 … compared to an estimated 1.5 million tons likely to be exported from this region in 2012, as reported by the North American Wood Fiber Review,” said the company.

The South is aided in its wood-pellet exports both by a long history of fast-growing softwoods for industry and less domestic consumption.

New England consumes more pellets than the South, in both heating systems converted from fuel oil, such as the one that powers Mascenic High School and the New Hampshire Ball Bearing plant in Peterborough, and in combined heat and power systems that also produce electricity, used mostly by industry.

At the residential level, the continued rise in heating fuel prices has pushed the adoption of wood-pellet, or biomass, stoves and even whole-house boilers – at least, in places where even cheaper natural gas is not available.

Pellets, made of sawdust mixed with a binder, revolutionized wood heat and wood power because they are of uniform size and weight, which means they can be mechanically loaded into a burner, allowing automated, thermostat-controlled systems.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks’ blog on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).