Page 1


Upping the Ante As New Pellet Facilities Grow, Everything from Engineering to Finance Changes Page 18

Also: Building the Pellet Market, One Home at a Time Page 24


Crop-Based Pellet Production Presents Unique Challenges Page 30

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Pellet Mill Magazine

Contents »

Advertiser Index

7 2014 International Biomass Conference & Expo 21 2014 National Advanced Biofuels Conference and Expo 11 2014 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo 17 Airoflex Equipment 12 AMANDUS KAHL GmbH & Co. KG 2 Andritz Feed & Biofuel A/S 29 BRUKS Rockwood 16 Burns & McDonnell 33 CPM Roskamp Champion 13 Dieffenbacher 20 EBM Engineering 38 Ecostrat 7 Evergreen Engineering

Q1 2014 | VOLUME 4 | ISSUE 1

FEATURES 18 PROJECT DEVELOPMENT Blazing New Trails in Pellet Project Development Bigger facilities change parameters for engineering, construction, finance. By Tim Portz

24 MARKET DEVELOPMENT Getting Green Heat to Main Street The Model Neighborhood Project in Berlin, N.H., demonstrates modern, sophisticated pellet heating systems. By Chris Hanson

30 FEEDSTOCK Crop-Based Pellets for Power, Fuel and Ag Heat Two Missouri companies take different approaches to development. By Susanne Retka Schill

36 Q&A Coming into the Country Superior Pellet Fuels General Manager Chad Schumacher describes the development of Alaska’s first pellet mill. By Tim Portz


26 GreCon, Inc. 23 Industrial Bulk Lubricants

Our Own Best Advocates By Tim Portz


14 RUF U.S., Inc. 15 Vecoplan LLC 32 West Salem Machinery Co. 34 Wolf Material Handling Systems


Biomass for Heat: Think It, Speak It, Promote It! By John Crouch


Get Involved in Developing ISO’s Wood Pellet Safety Standards By Chris Wiberg



Georgia Biomass’s pellet facility in Waycross, Ga, is among the first pellet facilities built to service a growing export market. These new facilities differ significantly from their much smaller antecedents. PHOTO: Tim Portz, BBI International

Pellets Hit the Right Notes as Fossil Fuel Replacement By Seth Ginther



The “Global Outlook” article in the Third Quarter 2013 issue of Pellet Mill Magazine had an error in an illustration. The trade numbers shown for the U.S., Canada and Russia shipments to the EU are in units of thousand metric tons, and not million metric tons as shown.


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Because the Pellet Supply Chain Summit is a co-located with the Internationanl Biomass Conference & Expo, sponsorships are expected to quickly sell-out. Contact us at or call 866-746-8385 to learn more.

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« Editor’s Note

Our Own Best Advocates

Tim Portz


One of the most impressive aspects of the pellet industry is the passion that so many producers have for market development. Pellet producers, perhaps more than any other renewable energy producer, understand the vital importance building a market for their product, customer by customer. This quarter’s issue of Pellet Mill Magazine, the first in a year that will no doubt be marked by continued quarter-by-quarter growth in the export market, doesn’t forget the producer aiming not for foreign utilities, but instead for customers with homes, businesses, art centers and communities to heat. As long as this industry is populated by professionals like Superior Pellet Fuels LLC’s Chad Schumacher, the industry will continue to win new customers and new market share. In my page-36 interview with Schumacher, he is explicit about his market development activities stating, “We have worked directly with a number of small businesses to finance and install pellet burning systems including boilers, furnaces and stoves.” Fellow pellet producer Jonathan Kahn, (and Pellet Mill Magazine editorial board member) on literally the opposite end of the continent, understands the same thing, and is taking similar action. In Chris Hanson’s page-25 feature about the work at Berlin, N.H., to become a model community for the greater deployment of pellet-derived heat, Kahn doesn’t hesitate to point to the bottomline impact of grassroots market development saying, “The growth of pellets has definitely been going up in a big way, with our business and, specifically, in bulk.” Kahn and Schumacher both know that for every new pellet furnace installed, a long-term customer comes along with it. Finally, I’d like to offer my gratitude for the professionals that patiently walked me through the intricacies and key differences between facilities like the ones Kahn and Schumacher operate and the facilities being financed and built to serve the burgeoning export market. I open my page 18 feature “Blazing New Trails in Pellet Project Development” by establishing that among the 14 pellet plants under active construction the average size is nearly six times the size of the 150 or so that already exist. The differences in how they are financed, built and operated are both dramatic and still emerging. This promises to be an intriguing year. Producers selling into domestic marketplaces will no doubt continue to win customers on a boiler by boiler basis while the developers aiming to capture a share of the exploding export market will race to get up, online and shipping pellets.


Industry Events » International Biomass Conference & Expo


MARCH 24-26, 2014


Orange County Convention Center Orlando, Florida Organized by BBI International and produced by Biomass Magazine, this event brings current and future producers of bioenergy and biobased products together with waste generators, energy crop growers, municipal leaders, utility executives, technology providers, equipment manufacturers, project developers, investors and policy makers. It’s a true onestop shop—the world’s premier educational and networking junction for all biomass industries. 866-746-8385 |

Pellet Supply Chain Summit

COPY EDITOR Jan Tellmann

MARCH 24, 2014

Orange County Convention Center Orlando, Florida As the pellet export production capacity is set to more than double in the next 18 to 24 months, this summit will investigate the contributions of each stakeholder group along the supply chain and the challenges they’ll have to overcome as production and export capacity ramp up. The Sustainable Pellet Supply Chain Summit is a must attend event for landowners, local and regional economic development officers, loggers, logistics providers, pellet manufacturers, commodity brokers, shipping companies and port professionals. Co-located with the 2014 International Biomass Conference & Expo, being held in Orlando, Fla., the Pellet Supply Chain Summit is a compelling combination of the right topics being discussed at the right place, at the right time. 866-746-8385 |


Art ART DIRECTOR Jaci Satterlund GRAPHIC DESIGNER Raquel Boushee

Publishing & Sales CHAIRMAN Mike Bryan

Bioenergy Project Development Seminar

CEO Joe Bryan

MARCH 24, 2014


Orange County Convention Center Orlando, Florida Designed to walk attendees in a through the project development life cycle, this preconference seminar will feature presenters with deep experience in moving projects from the concept phase to the construction phase. Attendees will learn about early project feasibility work, the role economic developers and host communities can and should play, how project capital is accumulated and the importance of a quality offtake agreement. This seminar is a must for anyone in the conceptual stage of a bioenergy project. 866-746-8385 |

International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo


JUNE 9-12, 2014 Subscriptions to Pellet Mill Magazine are free of charge—distributed quarterly—to Biomass Magazine subscribers.To subscribe, visit or you can send your mailing address to Pellet Mill Magazine Subscriptions, 308 Second Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203. You can also fax a subscription form to (701) 746-5367. Back Issues & Reprints Select back issues are available for $3.95 each, plus shipping. Article reprints are also available for a fee. For more information, contact us at (866) 746-8385 or Advertising Pellet Mill Magazine provides a specific topic delivered to a highly targeted audience. We are committed to editorial excellence and high-quality print production. To find out more about Pellet Mill Magazine advertising opportunities, please contact us at (866) 746-8385 or Letters to the Editor We welcome letters to the editor. Send to Pellet Mill Magazine Letters to the Editor, 308 2nd Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203 or e-mail to Please include your name, address and phone number. Letters may be edited for clarity and/or space.

Indiana Convention Center Indianapolis, Indiana Now in its 30th year, the FEW provides the global ethanol industry with cutting-edge content and unparalleled networking opportunities in a dynamic business-to-business environment. The FEW is the largest, longest running ethanol conference in the world—and the only event powered by Ethanol Producer Magazine. 866-746-8385 |

Please recycle this magazine and remove inserts or samples before recycling TM


COPYRIGHT © 2014 by BBI International

« Standards Steward

Biomass for Heat: Think It, Speak It, Promote It! BY JOHN CROUCH

Biomass is a pretty generic term. For some it means algae or ethanol for liquid fuels, or wood chips for co-gen electricity. For most readers of Pellet Mill Magazine, biomass either refers to pellets for export or, if your focus is North America, it means heat. For far too many pellet producers and advocates in the U.S. and Canada, promotion is not high on the list of things they think about. Does everyone think another energy crisis is going to ‘float our boats’, like it did in 2005 and 2008? The domestic pellet industry needs to emulate other U.S. or Canadian businesses: we are going to have to promote our product. We must tell our story of the profound value of pellet heat to the large number of North American households that are unable to gorge on cheap natural gas for much of the next decade. True, we do a lot of promotion now, both individually and collectively, but look at industry websites. Not just the Pellet Fuel Institute, Biomass Thermal Energy Council or BBI International websites, but those of individual pellet producers. We have to sell the pellet value proposition on every website, in every article, and on every bag we ship. Pellets save you money! Period. End of story. These savings are not just for your household, but also for your school district, your community’s rural hospitals, office buildings or grocery stores, to name a few examples. Pellet heat saves money for rural U.S. and Canada consumers. So what does this mean in practice? Does your website total up the millions of gallons of fuel oil or LP your company has saved consumers since you opened? If your mill has


been making pellets for 10 years, that is a lot of gallons of avoided energy costs. During a panel that PFI sponsored at last month’s Woodstove Design Challenge, in Washington, D.C., speakers discussed the benefits of heating with pellets. Richard Thomas of Courtland Hearth & Hardware announced that his calculations show that stores in Maryland have helped displace the use of approximately 25,000 barrels of oil per year, because of the 10,000 tons of pellets his pellet stove customers purchase on an annual basis. I served as moderator of the panel, which also included Stephen Faehner of American Wood Fibers and Carroll Hudson of England’s Stove Works. We highlighted the cost savings, convenience and environmental benefits offered by wood pellets with an audience that included potential consumers, long-time users of pellet appliances and representatives from the U.S. Forest Service. Richard Thomas isn’t leaving the promotion of heating with pellets to someone else, he’s doing it. North American pellet producers who are not exporting cannot leave the promotion to Richard, or for that matter, to other appliance retailers or manufacturers. Sure, these folks need to promote pellet heat to sell their appliances, and are doing so, but everyone has to promote the simple idea that pellet heat saves money. Certainly, this is not a new idea. John Shimek of Hearth & Home Technologies, drove this point home at the PFI Breakfast in Orlando last March. Richard Thomas moderated a panel featuring long-time industry players at the PFI Annual Confer-

ence last July, where the same concept was discussed. The conversation continues offline and focuses on growing the consumer base for the domestic heat market and working toward a larger market for pellets beyond residential heating. We should all think about what we can do to promote these concepts. Highlighting cost savings is key and, for any consumer audience, should be bullet point No. 1. But, we must think about the desires of many consumers to save money and lessen their environmental impact. Understanding the concept of sustainability and how it impacts consumer choice must be thought out and incorporated into our messaging. What does your website say? How much fossil energy has your mill, retail store or manufacturing facility helped families and rural institutions replace since it first opened? Do the math, take a shot at it. We’ve got to cement the value proposition that our industry is saving folks money in North America and elsewhere, every day of every heating season, and we’ve been doing it for over 25 years. Yes, the term biomass means a lot of things, but not nearly enough people associate it with saving money on their home heating bill. Yet. Author: John Crouch Director of Affairs, Pellet Fuels Institute 916-536-2390

Testing Grounds »

Get Involved in Developing ISO’s Wood Pellet Safety Standards BY CHRIS WIBERG

Even as I write this article, today’s headlines for our industry yet again call out another production facility that has suffered a serious fire and subsequent explosion. I could say I am surprised, but anyone who has been in this industry for even a short time would know that these events are far more common than they should be. Fortunately, today’s incident only resulted in damage to the facility and not to the people working at the plant, but time and time again serious safety issues that plague the pellet fuels industry do result in serious injury and death. Ultimately the question is, what do we do about it? The Wood Pellet Association of Canada and the University of British Columbia have been calling for action for years and have done substantial work in this regard, but it takes the commitment of the entire industry to really reign in these issues. To this effect, we have made great progress in the past year. The U.S. Industrial Pellet Association has formed a safety committee to investigate these issues within the U.S. On an international level, the European Biomass Association (AEBIOM) and European Pellet Council coordinated the first international workshop on pellet safety this year. Roughly 70 experts of various backgrounds and expertise represented 13 countries at the event held in Fügen, Austria, this past March. In addition, we now have the EU-funded SafePellets Project that seeks to develop guidelines for quality assurance measures along the pellets supply chain and solutions for safe handling and storage of pellets.

The common goal of these various initiatives is to develop work practices that will reduce and/or eliminate safety-related incidents and accidents throughout the pellet production and utilization supply chain, while protecting property and providing investment security. The International Standards Organization is taking this one step further and developing safety standards for pelletized biofuels. The ISO initiative started as a Swedish proposal defining the need, resulting in an initial meeting in October where it was decided that the safety related standards for pelletized biofuels would be developed under the direction of Working Group 4 of ISO TC 238. The specific standards to be developed include: • Safe handling and storage of pelletized biofuels in commercial and industrial applications. • Safe handling and storage of pelletized biofuels in domestic and other small scale applications. • Prevention, detection, suppression and management of fires and explosions in commercial and industrial handling and storage of pelletized biofuels. • Analysis of spontaneous heat generation from pelletized biofuels • Analysis of off-gassing products from pelletized biofuels. As a member of ISO through the American National Standards

Institute, the U.S. pellet industry may participate in the development of these standards. The U.S. already has a strong Technical Advisory Group overseeing the work items being developed within ISO TC 238, however we need U.S. experts to step up as active participants in each of these work items. If you have expertise in any of these areas and wish to participate, all you need to do is contact Scott Cedarquist of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. ASABE is the standards development organization assigned by ANSI to oversee the activities of ISO TC 238 and is the administrator of the U.S. TAG. Cedarquist can be reached via email at It is imperative the U.S. identify experts to participate in the development of these standards. If not, they will be developed by the predominant interests of other countries. We need to make sure that these standards protect our people, property and investments and are thoroughly reviewed and evaluated by U.S. interests prior to their adoption. Getting involved in the early stages of the development of any standard is the time in which we have the greatest influence. Now is the prime time, so I am calling for our industry experts to get involved. Author: Chris Wiberg Manager, Biomass Energy Laboratory 218-428-3583


« Industrial Insight

Pellets Hit the Right Notes as Fossil Fuel Replacement BY SETH GINTHER

For decades, we have been seeking alternatives to fossil fuels due to the negative effects of coal and petroleum on the environment. Despite these concerns, utilities have been slow to adopt alternative energies due to concerns about cost, capacity and reliability. There is a viable alternative: industrial wood pellets. To an impartial observer, pellets hit all the right notes. They are produced from low-quality wood fiber, including forestry byproducts that would otherwise go to waste, and release up to 90 percent less carbon than coal. Pellets emit fewer heavy metals and other pollutants into the air we breathe. Yet, a vocal minority is not satisfied with the pace of progress. Incapable of offering viable solutions, they criticize wood pellets by making claims that are based on a fundamental misrepresentation of the facts about how and where producers obtain wood fiber. In 2010, dozens of respected scientists raised concerns about these misleading arguments in a letter to Congress saying the extremists’ claims could encourage utilities to stick with fossil fuels instead of switching to carbonbeneficial wood pellets. Why is that a big deal? Basic science. “The carbon dioxide released from the combustion or decay of woody biomass is part of the global cycle of biogenic carbon and does not increase the amount of carbon in circulation,” the scientists wrote. “In contrast, carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels increases the amount of carbon in the cycle.” The myth that forests are being clear-cut at the direction of pellet producers is another common accusation. 10 PELLET MILL MAGAZINE | Q1 2014

Wood pellets are not the cause of this practice. We work with our members and landowners to promote sustainable harvesting and management practices. All the while, increased demand for wood fiber from pellet producers is stimulating the U.S. forestry industry, a vital part of the economy that has been suffering during the Great Recession. Landowners now have powerful incentives to grow new trees and ignore offers to convert their land to other uses. Research shows that young trees absorb carbon at a faster rate than older trees. The practice of rotational harvesting means there is a continual cycle of new growth. Additionally, trees tend to grow faster in the southeastern United States, meaning that we realize the benefits from these carbon powerhouses much faster. The growing demand for industrial wood pellets is also helping Europeans achieve their ambitious climatechange goals. As a number of utilities have learned, it is relatively inexpensive to convert existing coal furnaces to use industrial wood pellets. This innovation decreases the reliance on coal and reduces carbon emissions without incurring the massive capital costs accompanying new plant construction. This benefits everyone: fewer emissions, more jobs, stronger forests, weaker demand for fossil fuels. The United States leads the world in sustainable forest practices. A comprehensive framework of laws, regulations, programs and practices was developed over decades and adapted to local conditions. As a result, the number of trees per acre has increased in all regions for more than 50 years, ac-

cording to the U.S. Forest Service. The sheer economics of forestry favors the growth of large trees to produce highvalue products including lumber for homes or furniture. The fiber used for bioenergy is a mere byproduct of those higher value product industries. Pellet producers rely on low-cost, low-quality fiber. We use parts of trees that others either leave behind or cannot sell into the pulp, paper or lumber markets. The notion of U.S. forests being clear-cut exclusively for wood pellets is demonstrably false. What is true is that demand for wood pellets is growing, and this is creating new jobs in forestry, manufacturing and shipping. The forestry industry is responsible for adding billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy. As the wood pellet industry grows, so does its impact on local job markets and state economies. The increased demand for wood pellets is barely a blip in relation to the overall forest products industry. In a recent letter to U.K. regulators, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal noted “less than one-tenth of 1 percent of southern U.S. forest inventory would be affected” if European demand meets projections through 2020. The bottom line? Industrial wood pellets are part of the solution. Don’t believe those who claim otherwise. America’s forests are growing, have been for decades and will continue to do so far into the future. Author: Seth Ginther Executive Director U.S. Industrial Pellet Association 804-771-9540





Business Briefs


2 companies earn certification under PFI standards program The Pellet Fuels Institute has certified Massena, N.Y.-based Curran Renewable Energy and American Wood Fibers, with locations in Circleville, Ohio, and Marion, Va., under the PFI Standards Program. The program is a third-party certification program that provides standard specifications for residential- and commercial-grade fuel.

ag0114-Kahl_PMM 14.11.13 10:23 Seite 1 online retailer appoints CEO, the nation’s largest online wood pellet retailer, has appointed David Nydam as CEO. He will focus on driving further growth in the business. Nydam previously served as president of Wellesley, Mass.-based BCC Research, a source of market growth and segmentation data for technology-driven industries. Prior to BCC, he was vice president of marketing at EF Education for its direct-to-consumer Go Ahead Tours division. WoodPellets. com’s prior CEO, Tim Loucks, will remain active as a board member and advisor. Plum Creek Timber, Enova sign supply agreement Plum Creek Timber Co. has entered into a 10-year fiber supply and services

agreement with The Enova Group. Under the agreement, Plum Creek will deliver up to 3 million tons annually of sustainablymanaged wood fiber to three pellet manufacturing locations that will be constructed in the southeastern U.S. Approximately 500,000 tons will originate from Plum Creek’s timberlands with the remaining 2.5 million tons sourced and delivered from third-party landowners. Viridis Energy starts operations at Nova Scotia plant Viridis Energy Inc. has announced that its wholly owned subsidiary Scotia Atlantic Biomass Co. Ltd. has commenced operations and is producing wood pellets at its 120,000-ton-per-year plant in Middle Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia. The facility’s first shipment of pellets was sold for

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delivery in December. Viridis acquired the facility, which features five pellet processes, in February 2012. A two-year European off-take agreement is in place for its output. Biomass fuel producer earns USDA certified label Eagle Valley Eco Fuels Inc. has earned the USDA certified biobased product label for its Brickenmore biomass fuel brick and fire starters. The USDA certified biobased product label verifies that the product’s amount of renewable, biobased ingredients meet or exceed prescribed USDA standards.

Enova adds COO

Ken Ciarletta has been named chief operating officer of The Enova Group. He has more than 30 years of experience in the forest products and bioenergy business, with operations and sales experience in pulp and paper, solid and engineered wood products, timber management and procurement, and supply chain responsibilities. Ciarletta is a long-term leader with Georgia Pacific, Weyerhaeuser, and RWE Georgia Biomass. He was director of commercial and supply chain operations North America for Georgia Biomass. He previously served as plant manager for RWE’s Waycross pellet plant.

Metso approves demerger Metso Corp.’s extraordinary general meeting has approved the board of director’s proposed plan for a partial demerger, deciding to demerge Metso into two companies. Metso’s pulp, paper and power business will be transferred to a new company, Valmet Corp. Mining, construction and automation businesses will remain part of Metso. The demerger was expected to be complete Dec. 31.

SHARE YOUR INDUSTRY NEWS: To be included in the Business Briefs, send information (including photos and logos, if available) to Business Briefs, Pellet Mill Magazine, 308 Second Ave. N., Suite 304, Grand Forks, ND 58203. You may also email information to Please include your name and telephone number in all correspondence.

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Dieffenbacher USA, Inc. 2000 McFarland 400 Blvd. | Alpahretta, GA 30004 Phone: (770) 226-6394 | Q1 2014 | PELLET MILL MAGAZINE 13

Pellet News Mississippi plant to produce pellets, liquid biofuels BlueFire Renewables Inc. has announced plans to reconfigure its proposed Fulton, Miss., cellulosic biofuel plant to include wood pellet production. The new design includes a 9 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant along with 400,000 tons of annual pellet production capacity. The company originally planned to construct a 19 MMgy cellulosic ethanol biorefinery. "This restructure provides a more robust economic model for the Fulton facility with a significant increase in projected revenues. It has become apparent in our attempts to obtain financing for the project that the right synergies and revenue model would be needed to build this first-of-a-kind facility," said Arnold Klann, president and CEO of BlueFire. "The optimum use of biomass in the integrated facility strikes a much better balance of revenue with costs and a better utilization of resources. The more profitable use of capital and the enhanced security of projected revenue streams more closely match what the banks have been requiring in the very conservative and restricted credit markets.”

IEA Task 40: US tops global pellet capacity The International Energy Agency’s BioEnergy Task 40 has released a report that takes a global overview of biomass used in industrial and transport sectors. The report, titled “Large Industrial Users of Energy Biomass,” notes trade volumes of wood pellets have been growing recently. According to the report, global wood pellet production was estimated at 18.3 million metric tons in 2011, with global production capacity estimated to be approximately 35 million metric tons. According to those estimates, only 52

Top pellet production nations in 2011 U.S. Canada Germany Russia Sweden Austria Portugal Latvia France

Volume (million metric tons) 4.7 1.75 1.741 1.59 1.288 0.94 0.65 0.633 0.55



Versati wood and biomass briquettes are quickly becoming Versatile a go g go-to -to biofuel for consumers all over the U.S. They are clean, clea eaan, af affordable, and can be used in any wood-burning device from from fr m fireplaces fireplace and stoves to fire pits. Briquettes will open doors to new fi markets and d growth oppo opportunities for your business, and because they can be made from materials you already process (and then some), it’s simple to get started. Plus, with substantial savings on energy, maintenance, and labor, briquettes are cheaper to make per ton than pellets! What are you waiting for? For more information call 440-779-2747 or visit and catch the market share you’ve been missing! *Source: Hearth, Patio, & Barbecue Association – based on appliance shipments from 1998-2011.


percent of capacity was in use in 2011. Most pellet production is located in North America and Europe. The report names the U.S., Canada, Germany, Russia and Sweden as the largest pellet producing countries in 2011. Two of the world’s largest pellet produces, Georgia Biomass and Green Circle, are located in the U.S. The largest pellet producers, in the world, Vyborgskay Cellose, is located in Russia. Norway-based Biowood and Canadabased Pinnacle Pellet, round out the five largest pellet producing companies in 2011.

Share of global production 26% 10% 10% 9% 7% 5% 4% 3% 3%

The Total U.S. Wood-Burning Appliance Market (including fireplaces, freestanding stoves, and inserts)

13% Market Share Pellet Appliances*

87% Market Share Briquette-Friendly Appliances*

Pellet News » More US families heat with wood 2011 to 2012. Overall, nearly 2.5 million households are estimated to use wood as a primary heating fuel. From 2000 to 2010, wood and pellet home heating grew by 34 percent, faster than any other heating fuel. Today, 2.1 percent of Americans use wood or pellets as their primary Rise of Residential Wood Heat in U.S. 2000-2012 heating fuels, up from 1.6 WA percent in 2000. VT NH ME MT ND In addition, 7.7 OR MN MA ID percent of U.S. WI NY SD RI WY CT MI households PA IA NJ NE NV use wood as OH DE UT IL IN CA MD a secondary CO WV VA KS MO DC KY heating fuel, NC TN according to the OK AZ AR NM SC 2009 U.S. Energy MS AL GA Information TX LA Administration FL Energy Consumption AK HI Survey. 20-39.9% 0-19.9%

The Alliance for Green Heat recently announced that 2012 census data shows wood heating in the U.S. is continuing its growth streak. U.S. Census statistics indicate that the number of families that use wood or pellets as their primary heating fuel grew by 2.6 percent, or 63,566 families, from





PHOTO: U.S. CENSUS DATA (2000-2012)

GCRE purchases, expands Louisiana pellet plant Gulf Coast Renewable Energy closed on the acquisition of West Monroe, La.-based Bayou Wood Pellets LLC in mid-August. GCRE is making investments to expand the facility’s production capacity beyond its current capacity of 54,000 metric tons per year. Construction is underway to increase the facility’s production capacity to 120,000 metric tons per year, said Westin Lovy of Bridge Lane Capital, a South Norwalk, Conn.-based asset management firm that provided funding for the acquisition and improvements. The pellet plant will take in sawmill residue sourced from Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi as feedstock. The resulting pellets will be sold to overseas utility customers under a long-term offtake agreement. In addition to the acquisition of the Bayou Wood Pellet plant, GCRE is also pursuing plans to develop three additional pellet plants in Mississippi, including a 320,000-metric-ton-peryear proposed plant in Copiah County, Miss.


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« Pellet News Test burn of stover pellets Maine torrefied pellet plant gets loan guarantee planned in Missouri The Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) The plant will employ a unique torrefacColumbia (Mo.) Water and Light has gained approval from its advisory board to purchase biomass pellets for trial burns at its municipal power plant this winter. CWL has been cofiring waste wood chips and coal since 2008, and is exploring the use of other biomass fuels. In January, CWL plans to test burn engineered pellets developed in a collaborative effort between Missouri Corn Growers Association and Enginuity Worldwide LLC. Enginuity’s bid was to deliver 700 tons of the experimental fuel made from corn stover or a mixture of stover and grass for testing at a cost of $500 per ton. In October 2012, CWL conducted a test firing using miscanthus pellets. Results were mixed. While the pellets mixed well with the coal and were handled easily by the system, the fuel handling system created dust and degraded the pellets. There were also issues with water damage during storage. In its bid to CWL to test its new stover pellets, Enginuity addressed many of the issues uncovered by the miscanthus pellet test burn.

board recently approved a $25 million loan guarantee to support a proposed torrefied wood pellet project under development by Thermogen Industries, an entity of Cate Street Capital, in Millinocket, Maine. The plant will initially have the capacity to produce 100,000 tons of torrefied wood pellets per year, with production expected to expand to 500,000 tons at a later date. Construction is currently expected to start this winter, with production commencing before the end of this year.

tion technology developed by Scotland-based Rotawave. The process uses microwave technology coupled with traditional thermal technology to more effectively “cook” the pellet from the inside out, resulting in a more uniform product. In addition to the loan guarantee, the project is funded by $26 million in private equity investment and $19 million in financing from the New Market Tax Credit Program. Thermogen Industries plans to construct a similar 300,000-ton-per-year plant in Eastport, Maine.

Moving Forward Thermogen expects to break ground its Millinocket plant soon. The proposed facility is shown here in a rendering. PHOTO: THERMOGEN INDUSTRIES

POWER TO THE PELLETS Bring us on board for your next pelleting facility project. Meeting your goals is our burning desire. Burns & McDonnell can offer integrated project delivery, with a single point of responsibility on design-build projects. Our experience ranges from engineering to environmental challenges, from front-end planning to startup and more. Together we can find sustainable solutions to make you successful. Let’s talk about how we can help: Ron Jones 314-682-1571

Engineering, Architecture, Construction, Environmental and Consulting Solutions 16 PELLET MILL MAGAZINE | Q1 2014

Pellet News » USDA partners with industry to promote wood energy In September, the USDA announced a partnership agreement with the Alliance for Green Heat, the Biomass Power Association, the Biomass Thermal Energy Council and the Pellet Fuels Institute. The partnership aims to expand the use of wood energy and improve the health and safety of our nation’s forests. "This MOU (memorandum of understanding) shows a significant commitment by the USDA and the biomass industry to work together to expand use of wood energy in our country," said Scott Jacobs, president of PFI. "I know I speak for all of our membership when I say that we are thrilled to be working in a more deliberate

partnership with USDA and our colleagues within the biomass industry.” As part of its announcement, the USDA also awarded more than $1.1 million in grants to five organizations to form statewide teams that will stimulate development of wood energy projects. Grant recipients include Idaho Governor’s Office of Energy Resources; the Watershed Research and Training Center in Hayfork, Calif.; the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; the North Country Resource Conservation & Development Council in Gilford, N.H.; and the Alaska Energy Authority.

Making It Official USDA Bioenergy MOU is signed by Biomass Thermal Energy Council Executive Director Joseph Seymour (left); Alliance for Green Heat President John Ackerly, USDA Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden; Pellet Fuels Institute Executive Director Jennifer Hedrick; and Biomass Power Association President and CEO Bob Cleaves. PHOTO: USDA

USIPA conference focuses on export potential The U.S. Industrial Pellet Association kicked off its 3rd annual Exporting Pellets Conference in Miami in late October with a blend of optimism and measured pragmatism. More than 500 attendees were on hand at the event, which offered a venue for those in the North American pellet industry to discuss topics pertinent to their expanding industry, including increasing demand, future sustainability requirements and growing pains. John Bingham, an agricultural economist from U.K.-based Hawkins Wright, spoke about European pellet demand at the event. He said wood pellet demand grew at an average annual rate of 23 percent from 2000 through 2013, with current demand reaching approximately 10 million metric tons. To put that volume in context, Bingham noted that 9 million metric tons would be about enough to meet 1 percent of U.S. electrical generation capacity. Moving forward, Bingham said he sees market opportunity for nearly 27 million metric tons of consumption worldwide by 2020, with 20 million tons of that volume going to Europe. He also predicted increased demand in Asian and North American markets.


ÂŤ Project Development

SCALING UP: Many aspects of an export-scale pellet facility are larger versions of the same components seen at more conventionally scaled pellet plants. As pellet presses increase capacity, more pellet dies are added in sequence. PHOTO: TIM PORTZ, BBI INTERNATIONAL


Project Development Âť

Blazing New Trails in Pellet Project Development As output capacities increase, commonalities with conventional pellet facilities decrease. BY TIM PORTZ




he North American pellet production complex is pivoting dramatically. While this is understood across the industry in general terms, a close examination of the plants and projects tracked by Pellet Mill Magazine reveals a radical departure in size and scope is emerging when existing pellet mills are compared to those under construction or in various stages of preconstruction development. Of the 156 operating pellet mills in North America, only seven have production capacities that exceed 300,000 tons per year. The average production capacity of the remaining 149 is just under 60,000 tons per year. These smaller facilities are typically situated near existing forest products manufacturing facilities, converting sawmill residuals and logging waste streams into pellets that are sold largely in the domestic retail marketplace. The average production capacity of the 14 facilities currently identified as being under active construction is nearly 350,000 tons per year, or about six times the size of the average existing pellet mill. The funnel of pellet mills in various stages of preconstruction project development tells a similar story. Of the 27 pellet facilities in this category, the average capac-

SCOPE AND SCALE DIFFERENTIAL: The stark differences between the material handling systems at conventionally scaled pellet facilities and export scale facilities is immediately apparent. As facilities grow in scale, the reliance on labor must go down while the use of automation increases. PHOTO: TIM PORTZ, BBI INTERNATIONAL

ity is nearly 300,000 tons per year and half of these planned facilities have capacities exceeding 350,000 tons. While there are pellet facilities being planned and built with output capacities that align with the industry’s current averages, the vast majority of the 41 facilities either under construction or in development are being designed to produce pellets at export volumes.

Upscaled Design

There is widespread agreement in the pellet industry that the industry is in the early stages of this production platform transition. “The pellet industry at high production capacities is just now beginning to develop,” says Malcolm Swanson, vice president of engineering at Astec Inc. As the transition unfolds, differences are emerging in nearly every facet of pellet

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production, from the size and scope of the wood basket that feeds a facility to the offtake agreements that are crucial to getting a facility financed. These differences between conventionally scaled pellet facilities and the emerging export-scale facilities can be spotted first in how the woodyards that feed the plants are operated. “At the smaller volumes, you’ll see a lot of manual feeding and blending systems for your raw products. At a lot of your chip yards where you have multiple species represented, you’ll just use a standard bucket loader to feed your process,” says Justin Price, principal at Evergreen Engineering

Inc. “When you start scaling these facilities up, you get to these larger, more automated stacking systems and you have to start thinking of your capital costs and how you want to operate the facility. You can’t just put six guys out in the yard. You have to start looking at automation in blending and storage.” This departure from more manual systems drives real cost into a project. “Woodyard equipment, including chipping, would run in the neighborhood of $15 million, although the size and complexity of the system could impact that number quite a bit in either direction,” Swanson reports.

Ben Easterlin, senior vice president at Enova Energy Group, a clean energy company actively developing export scale facilities, echoes these assertions stating, “Your whole supply chain and logistics infrastructure is different. It plays a major part in your financing and day-to-day operations. Additionally, it’s a large component of your opex (operating expenses).” Increased scale drives increased cost all the way through a pellet facility, even boosting the export-scale facilities into different regulatory categories than their smaller precursors. Operating export-scale plants recently discovered emissions were exceeding limits and not just coming from the drying infrastructure but, surprisingly, the dry hammermill and pelletizing lines. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are created and released as wood flour is heated and introduced into the pellet dies. “In the industry, the current best available control technologies are the RTOs and RCO units that are out there and available in the marketplace,” Price says. The regenerative thermal and catalytic oxidizers, (RTOs and RCOs) capture and destroy VOCs. “This is a prime example, as we scale up, of how we run into those types of risks.”



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A New Financing Paradigm

As installed pellet production capacity migrates towards facilities that produce upwards of 500,000 tons per year, their associated construction costs climb to a point where outside investors and lenders must be secured to move a project forward. Offering a rule of thumb for quickly estimating the equipment costs associated with plant construction, Astec’s Swanson notes, “equipment cost is about $1 million per ton per hour of pellet production capacity. This includes woodyard, chipping, production and load out. The average may be a little higher than that, now that backend VOC control has entered the equation and this number does not include site work or construction.”

Such costs are driving these new facilities out of the reach of the local lending community that historically has financed construction of smaller pellet mills. Additionally, with the exception of pellet mills being funded by the utilities they will ultimately supply, these export-scale facilities will not be supported by balance-sheet financing. As a result, pellet project developers must also engage in extensive capital drives. Invariably, pellet project developers and their investors must make a decision about who ultimately will take on the risk associated with a project. Lenders and investors want guarantees that their investment is a sound one and the pressure for developers to adequately de-risk a project mounts.

The average PLANNED capacity for the 14 pellet facilities currently under construction is 347,172 tons per year. year

347,172 The average output capacity of the 149 operational pellet mills in North America not built to satisfy the export market is 58,563 tons per year.



An incredible amount of a project’s risk profile can be found in the construction and commissioning phases. Developers can choose between two paths to build and commission a production facility. They can act as their own general contractor and take on the risk themselves or they can engage a qualified engineering, procurement and construction company (EPC) and pay a premium for the EPC firm to carry the risk for them. Explaining the differences between the two approaches, Price notes, “Obviously the lowest cost is moving in to a design, bid, build approach, but that requires the operators or owners to have enough credit or cash to make the purchases themselves.” Recognizing that the pool of interested parties capable of financing a pellet mill themselves is quite limited, he continues, “The investors and developers that realize the opportunity in the market and are looking at it, may or may not have enough cash to support that bid/build approach, so they are going to seek more financing and they are going to need more guarantees. Thereby, they will have to move to an EPC approach simply because of the ‘what-ifs.’” Expanding on the crucial role that EPCs will play as this industry continues to deploy capital, Easterlin says, “The reason you would use an EPC is the financial communities are not used to financing this process. They want to see someone that can guarantee the actual delivery schedule and that the machines actually work when they are put together. It’s a production guarantee, in essence. They want some kind of financial credit behind that guarantee.” EPC companies demand a premium for this type of guarantee, and developers and their investors must balance the overall cost of this method of risk abatement and questions of project equity with the costs associated with an EPC wrap. For Easterlin, the use of EPCs is all but assured as the industry moves forward. “There are some investors out there that will invest without an EPC contractor, but they are few and far


APPROPRIATE INFRASTRUCTURE: Pellet project developers eyeing export markets will give strong consideration to rail load-out infrastructure, particularly as ports participating in the pellet export market build infrastructure to receive and unload rail cars PHOTO: TIM PORTZ, BBI INTERNATIONAL

between,” he says. “And they are not going to do it without taking majority ownership in the project.” Clearly, pellet production is entering a new era. While the facilities producing pellets for local and regional sale continue to innovate and work to build markets, the vast majority of new investment in the space is being garnered by facilities being developed to capture long-term offtake agreements measured in the millions of tons over the life of the contract. Pellet production has become a high-stakes investment as the cost of construction is

measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The question now becomes which developers, financiers and builders will be able to confront the known and unknown challenges associated with pellet production at this new, grand scale and capture enviable market share for themselves and their investors. Author: Tim Portz Executive Editor, Pellet Mill Magazine 651-398-9154



MAIN STREET: Berlin, N.H., was selected for the first project because of its forest product legacy and the economic hardships it faced after a paper mill closure. PHOTO: NORTHERN FOREST CENTER




Green Heat to Main Street The Model Neighborhood Project in Berlin, N.H., demonstrates modern, sophisticated pellet heating systems. BY CHRIS HANSON




n the Northern Forest region of New Hampshire and the western foothills of Maine, the Northern Forest Center’s Model Neighborhood Project is helping residents switch from fuel oil to wood pellet boilers and fostering growth in the pellet industry. The project began as a collaboration between the Northern Forest Center and Maine Energy Systems. “We were hearing there needed to be more places for people to sell and use low-grade wood in order to make forestry more viable,” says Maura Adams, program director at Northern Forest Center. “So we had been thinking about pellets and wood heat and ended up talking to Maine Energy Systems about an idea they’ve been developing on incentivizing residential wood pellet boiler purchase and installation. The two ideas kind of fused as we figured out that creating this demonstration project was needed to bring attention to these systems and show how valuable they are.” Berlin, N.H., was selected for the first project because of its forest product legacy, the Berlin BetterBuildings program and the economic hardships facing the city after a paper mill closure, Adams says. By teaming up with BetterBuildings, Northern Forest’s


project was able to make a larger impact by combining fuel switching with energy efficiency improvements. Instead of large heating projects, the Berlin program focuses primarily on household systems, while including two affordable housing units and a community arts center. Adams says by including the three larger projects, the program demonstrates greater economic impact and serves as a more comprehensive community model. “For the residential part, as a condition of participation, they open their houses to tours. That’s kind of the point of the project,” Adams explains. “People need to see these systems at work, to see what they look like and understand they’re not traditional wood stoves, they’re not traditional pellet stoves, but these are very, very modern sophisticated systems that can be a direct replacement for oil boilers.” By the end of the year, Berlin witnessed the installation of 40 pellet boilers and now serves as a model for surrounding communities. The Forest Center and the Western Maine Community Action agency launched a second Model Neighborhood Project in June at Farmington and Wilton, Maine, roughly 80 miles east of Berlin. A third project is in its inception west of

Berlin in Vermont. The future projects will include multiple vendors to create a more competitive market place, Adams adds.

Delivering the Fuel

For pellet producers and equipment providers such as Geneva Wood Fuels and Maine Energy Systems, the Berlin project has helped validate pellet heating technology and provide opportunities to participate in the supply chain. Geneva Wood Fuels has been involved since the inception of the Berlin Neighborhood Project, says Jonathan Kahn, president, when MES approached the company to help secure a pellet supply. The wood pellets produced by Geneva at its Strong, Maine, facility are shipped by MES to its distribution point in Bethel, Maine, using converted cement trailers that carry 33 tons of fuel. The distribution center is comprised of 250-ton silos and a shaker system that cleans the pellets by removing any sawdust or particles. The separated sawdust is then put in a separate holding silo and returned to a mill to be repelletized. From Bethel, MES uses its bulk delivery operation to deliver to customers in the Berlin area. MES employs three pneumatic trucks that were built at Trans-Tech Indus-


tries in Brewer, Maine. The European-style trucks, designed by Austria-based Tropper Maschinen und Anlagen GmbH, employ a specialized aeration chamber to deliver pellets utilizing a moving air stream. “They basically float all the way from the truck into a bag that’s specially designed to breathe,” says Les Otten, co-founder of Maine Energy Systems. “So the pellet goes in, the air breathes out of the side of the bag without any dust. The only thing the home owner is left with after delivery is a faint smell of pine or hardwood in the storage area.” By using flowing air instead of mechanical delivery methods, pellets maintain greater integrity. The key is to get the pellet from one location to another without having it contact a mechanical device, Otten says. “Every time a pellet touches a mechanical device, it loses about two to three percent of its efficiency to sawdust.” The trucks are able to deliver the pellets up to 100 feet away from a structure and even send them 75 to 80 feet uphill, if needed. The pressurized vehicles deliver fuel at roughly 3.5 minutes per ton via the delivery hose hooked to the side of the building. The driver uses a remote control to operate the truck, filling the storage bag inside the facility.

Pellet Success

One of the larger, energy success stories from the Berlin Model Neighborhood Project is the St. Kieran Community Center for the Arts. Housed in a historic 19th century church, the community center had two boilers used for heat, with the largest heating the main zone, combusting 6 to 7 gallons of heating oil per hour. “It was like having a dragon in the basement,” says Joan Chamberlain, retired executive director of the community center. “Once it fired up, it rattled and things all happened.” To address rising fuel costs, the community center completed the first phase of its path to pellet heating between 2010 and 2011 by completing a comprehensive feasi-

QUICK DELIVERY: Maine Energy Services makes a delivery with its pneumatic truck.

bility study. The center examined available heating options and spoke with the forest service about becoming a model project. “Berlin is the center of the Northern Forest, it just kind of makes intuitive sense,” Chamberlain says. “The auditor played out that scenario and bought that as the most viable solution.” After securing the needed funding, the center completed the second phase of its project, installing the two new pellet boilers and storage bags. The contractors moved in the new boilers and built the storage room using a portion of the basement’s walk-out community room. By locating the fuel stor-

age in the basement, the center is able to quickly receive fuel and avoid maintaining an outdoor storage facility, Chamberlain says. “Deliveries are slick. They deliver like they do oil.” MES delivers the fuel through fourinch pipes on the north side of the center that initially stood about 18 inches above ground. The delivery personnel turn off the boilers and run the truck’s hoses from the street to the pipes that lead directly to the two 6-ton storage bags. After snow piled up in front of the delivery pipes, the center modified the pipes by extending them to 4 feet to be ready for the current winter

‘People need to see these systems at work, to see what they look like and understand they’re not traditional wood stoves, they’re not traditional pellet stoves, but these are very, very modern sophisticated systems that can be a direct replacement for oil boilers.’ —Maura Adams, program director, Northern Forest Center


« MARKET DEVELOPMENT season. “It’s a new process and product for all of us,” Chamberlain says. “It was a great learning process for my board and our partners.” In the third phase of the project, insulation was installed throughout the building. During an assessment of the ceiling, it was discovered there were 10 to 12 inches of space in some sections that had no insulation, letting heat escape through the arched roof. “Years ago, they just didn’t worry about it,” she says. With the new insulation and pellet boilers in place, the center saves around $10,000 in annual heating costs. During the first winter, the center used $7,300 worth of pellets and still ended the season with 6 to 7 tons left over. Furthermore, by having two boilers, the facility is able to meet the heating demands for the coldest parts of the winter and use one as a backup in the event the other needs to be shut down. “It’s allowing us to be in our home during some of our best programming months,” Chamberlain says. “This opportunity to get a handle on our energy costs, is allowing us to have a comfortable environment for our guests and our artists and operate comfortably and efficiently during the winter months.”

Industry Impact

OPPORTUNITY ON TAP: A different view of the pellet boilers installed in the basement of the community center for the arts shows the thermal storage tank.

By creating these model projects, the forest center and its partners are not only demonstrating the benefits of wood pellet boilers, but also addressing some of the infrastructure and financial challenges of the wood pellet industry. “The whole goal of the project is to catalyze the market and industry for small-scale pellet boilers. It’s really an untapped opportunity at this point,” Adams says. She adds the projects help build infrastructure by


DRAGON REPLACEMENT: Two pellet boilers replaced the old noisy and inefficient boilers at St. Kieran Community Center for the Arts. Both can be used for peak heating needs while one serves as a backup for the other. PHOTO: ST. KIERAN'S COMMUNITY CENTER FOR THE ARTS


MARKET DEVELOPMENT » assuring adequate amounts of available fuel and delivery methods, while also addressing financial institutions and insurance companies’ comfort with the technology. “As we deal with this, almost like a test case in these particular communities, we are working through a lot of issues so that we can then expand it and make it more widespread.” In anticipation of larger bulk orders, Geneva Wood Fuels has built a large holding silo for wood pellets. “The growth of pellets has definitely been going up in a big way, with our business and specifically in bulk,” Kahn says. “We’re up almost 50 percent this year in our bulk volume. It’s really grown, and I think some of our competitors have similar experiences.” The neighborhood projects work to foster greater customer density that may help boost the bulk pellet delivery infrastructure. “If you create the density and you have several folks looking for delivery in the same area, it incentivizes that equipment,” Kahn says. “This is a great jumpstart to the introduction of pellets into a community.” By becoming involved in similar projects, pellet producers are able to organically grow their customer base and the industry, Kahn says. “It’s really one customer at a time on the domestic side,” he says. It’s one thing for customers to read about pellet growth, but seeing the technology in action is a big influence on growing the industry, he adds. “When it’s tangible, and you see your neighbors doing it, it just grows the market.” Word of mouth has helped make the Berlin project become a success. When Maine Energy Systems sells a boiler system, the customer is sometimes the next person to sell a boiler, Otten says. “Seeing is believing. The Northern Forest Center project is probably the best example in the United States of how well that can work.” Author: Chris Hanson Staff Writer, Pellet Mill Magazine 701-738-4970


ÂŤ Feedstock

BIOMASS BOUNTY: Crop residues such as corn stover, energy crops like miscanthus and perennial grasses like switchgrass, pictured left to right, are suitable for pelletization using the right techniqes.


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Crop-Based Pellets for Power, Fuel and Ag Heat Pelletizing crop residues and designing energy crops require new technology and marketing approaches.



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ellets have taken a backseat in the Midwest where crops and grasses, not trees, dominate the landscape. Biomass energy efforts there have been much more focused on the production of liquid renewable fuels, following a model of baled feedstock supply procured from a cost-effective radius around the plant. Two Missouri companies are looking to pelletize crop residues and energy crops, targeting very different markets and following divergent business models. For MFA Oil Biomass

LLC, it’s all about recruiting growers and getting a new energy crop, miscanthus, established while developing multiple markets and building a supply chain from scratch. For Enginuity Worldwide LLC, it’s about developing an engineered pellet to overcome some of the limitations inherent in pelletizing nonwoody biomass such as grass or corn stover, targeting Missouri’s coal-fired power industry needs. In some respects, woody and agricultural feedstocks are opposites. “Wood has

high content of lignin and agricultural biomass is low in lignin,” explains Jaya Shankar Tumuluru, an expert on pelletizing biomass materials at the Idaho National Laboratory. “Wood is low in ash content and agricultural materials are high in ash content.” Wood’s lignin content at 25 percent or higher lends itself to high-quality, durable pellets due to lignin’s thermoplastic nature that essentially melts and binds the pellet together. Crop residues and perennial grasses, on the other hand, typically range between 12 and 14 percent in lignin. That lower lignin content can require more energy to pelletize herbaceous feedstocks than woody biomass, says the INL researcher, unless binders are used. And, while binders are widely used for other applications, such as using starch as the binder for pharmaceutical tablets, there is still much to be learned. “Binding is not a finely tuned science,” Tumuluru explains. “It’s still in the experimentation stage.” The difference in ash content can also be problematic for ag-based pellets, particularly with residential heating where the higher ash content of herbaceous pellets is undesirable. The ash content, along with varying levels of other elements such as chlorine or silica, can also create problems for power or industrial users, contributing to fouling or slagging in boilers. One possible solution for getting better-quality pellets from agricultural biomass, the INL researcher suggests, is to blend multiple feedstocks to get a consistent content in Btu, moisture and ash, and to keep undesirable components in acceptable concentrations. Including 10 to 20 percent woody biomass in the blend can act as a binder, he adds, improving the durability of ag-based pellets.

Engineering Pellets For Power

Finding a solution for durability and weatherability of ag-based pellets has been the focus of Missouri-based Enginuity. “We grew up here in this state,” says Nancy Heimann, Enginuity president. “One of our goals is to produce a fuel that enables power plants to be effective and continue to provide baseload power, but still balance the


Feedstock »

Composition Comparison Proximate Analysis (wt%) Moisture Ash Volatile Matter Fixed Carbon Ultimate Analysis (wt%) Carbon Hydrogen Oxygen Nitrogen Sulfur Chlorine Higher Heating Value

Wood Switchgrass Corn Stover Powder River Basin Coal 42 25.84 8 9.84 2.31 5.05 6.9 8.09 47.79 31.56 69.74 69.14 7.9 37.55 15.36 12.93 29.16 2.67 23.19 0.6 0.07 0.01 11.85

42 5.24 33.97 0.69 0.17 0.18 16.23

42.6 5.06 36.52 0.83 0.09 0.24 16.28

51.89 3.55 12.77 0.67 0.23 0.01 20.8

Source: Formulation, Pretreatment, and Densification Options to Improve Biomass Specifications for Cofiring High Percentages with Coal, JS Tumuluru, et al, INL, June 2012, published in Industrial Biotechnology

Ash Content of Different Biomass Fuels and Coal Ash Content (%wt, db) 5-8 Bark 1-2.5 Wood Chips With Bark (forest) 0.8-1.4 Wood Chips Without Bark (industrial) 0.5-1.1 Sawdust 3-12 Waste Wood 4-12 Starch and Cereals 2-8 Miscanthus 5-45 (8.5-10.5 on average) Coal Source: Formulation, Pretreatment, and Densification Options to Improve Biomass Specifications for Cofiring High Percentages with Coal, JS Tumuluru, et al, INL, June 2012, published in Industrial Biotechnology

requirements of environmental regulation and renewable portfolios and make those coal plants last longer.” As materials engineers, the Enginuity team has examined ways to densify agbased biomass so it can be handled alongside coal in a seamless fashion, without significant changes to handling or boiler systems. Enginuity has dubbed its process eCARB, short for environmentally continuous annually renewable biomass. The core technology is a binder that achieves 98 percent durability with a variety of ag feedstocks, a value that is higher than coal’s, says Heimann. The patented binder is comprised of all combustible material including a starch and a hydroxide as adhesives, a silicate as a viscosity agent, a preservative and a Btu additive. There are advantages to using the new process, Heimann says. Unlike typical pel-

let mills where uniform size reduction is a critical factor, she says, “our binder doesn’t work through mechanical means, it encapsulates every fiber and sticks them together. We designed the line to have no hammermills because we didn’t want the expense or the environmental footprint of the types of significant size reductions in our process.” The binder also permits the use of a variety of shapes. “Using [biomass] as a supplement to lump coal, we’re using a unique shape to make sure it flows correctly. One of the problems with three-eighths inch pellets is they fall through all the handling equipment designed for lump coal.” For power plants using pulverized coal, other shapes and sizes will be worked out and experiments conducted to see if it works better to blend the coal and biomass before or after grinding. Q1 2014 | PELLET MILL MAGAZINE 33

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Weatherability was another goal for the materials engineers. Traditional pellets must be protected from rain and weather, potentially creating an added expense for power plants considering cofiring. Heimann points to one test burn using miscanthus pellets where the power company discovered it couldn’t even store the coal and pellets together. The miscanthus acted as a dessicant, drawing moisture out of the coal, causing the pellets to swell and disintegrate. Enginuity developed a process described as roasting to create a water resistant biomass pellet. The engineered pellets will be tested this winter at the municipal power plant in the company’s home town in Columbia, Mo. Columbia Power & Light has worked with Missouri Corn Growers Association and Enginuity in getting grants from the American Public Power Association to help with the costs for the test burn, including the fuel and monitoring. Heimann says they intend


to test multiple blends with different proportions of corn stover, miscanthus and mixed grasses. The company also learned in late November that it has received a $500,000 USDA grant through the Rural Energy for America program to continue its research and development. “We’re just thrilled,” Heimann says. “USDA has walked alongside us quite a long time as we’ve tried to understand the problem; 90 percent of solving problems is understanding them correctly.”

Farmer-Based Development

The second Missouri-based project is following a different development path and targeting a different market. MFA Biomass is a division of the regional farm supply cooperative, MFA Oil Co. In 2008, shortly after the renewable fuels standard was passed and oil hit $147 a barrel, MFA “looked out to see what things were on the horizon, not only from renewable fuel standpoint but also

from agricultural heating standpoint,” explains Jared Wilmes, director of biomass operations. After researching several possibilities, the newly formed MFA Biomass settled on miscanthus as the bioenergy crop with the most potential. “We’re doing two things at once,” Wilmes says. “stabilizing energy prices and at the same time creating some economic returns for producers, developing a feedstock that can grow into something much larger.” With the help of a USDA grant through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program to reduce the risk for farmers in establishing the new crop, MFA Biomass now has 13,500 acres of miscanthus established. The ultimate goal is to have enough acreage to attract a liquid renewable fuels plant, which will require between 25,000 and 30,000 acres. They started with that mindset, Wilmes says, knowing that other markets would need to be developed as the base acreage grew. “You don’t just immediately pop in and grow 30,000 acres of miscanthus,” he explains. “It’s going to be a process evolving to get there.” As part of its multiple market development, MFA Biomass purchased a small pellet mill for experiments, using it to also make bagged wood pellets for residential heating while providing a hands-on comparison of the two feedstocks. “The miscanthus processes faster through our plant, about twice as fast through our system as wood,” Wilmes says. “That has to do with the properties of the canes versus hardwood. If we were doing softwood, that wouldn’t be as dramatic.” The durability of the miscanthus pellet isn’t as high as wood, he adds, “but is it sufficient to burn in an agricultural setting? Yes. It doesn’t have to be a perfect pellet to burn with the furnaces we’re using.” He expects the pellets will be handled in 20-ton bulk shipments and used in multifuel furnaces to heat poultry barns and hog production facilities. “The miscanthus pellets we have tested have come in at about 7,900 Btu per pound,” he says, which compares to wood at 8,100 to 8,300 Btu per pound. “It has slightly higher content of ash than wood, but not as high

BIG BIOMASS: Miscanthus is known for its vigorous growth and big yields, averaging 10 to 12 tons dry matter per acre with adequate moisture. The photo of the shorter miscanthus was taken in early spring, while the same field is pictured just a few months later in August. Pictured are Tim Wooldridge, MFA Oil Biomass northeast Arkansas area manager, U.S. Representative Rick Crawford and Joey Massey, MFA Oil board member.

as you find in switchgrass. We’re not looking to burn it in a residential setting where ash is critical.” The key difference from wood, he points out, is that as a perennial crop, miscanthus is harvested every year. The challenge is that, unlike wood, which is essentially harvested as-needed year around, miscanthus has a harvest window and must be stored. “I see our challenges on more of the harvest and storage and logistic sides than the pelletizing side,” he says, adding that while there are nuances to pelletizing miscanthus successfully, the process doesn’t change that much from wood. This winter, the project will see its first major harvest, with 40,000 bales expected from the first 4,000 acres to be cut. Miscanthus is harvested in the winter, after the crop sends its nutrients into the roots and goes dormant. It stands well, without lodging, Wilmes says, and is dry. And while southwest Missouri doesn’t have severe winters, they do expect to need to learn how to deal with cold, wet conditions.

National User Facility

Biomass users like Enginuity and MFA Biomass have a new resource to turn to as they work through the challenges of developing new biomass utilization strategies. The Idaho National Laboratory was recently designated as a Biomass Feedstock National User Facility. Built around the capabilities of INL, Kevin Kenney, lead biomass researcher, explains, “The purpose is to engage industry sooner in the research and development process.” The facility has a commercial-scale pellet mill, size-reduction equipment and the capacity to test using the full range of pretreatment systems being researched for various biomass conversion processes from power to heating, biofuels to biochemicals. The user facility’s goal is to help develop and evaluate improvements in biomass utilization throughout the supply chain, from farmers needing to maximize their returns while understanding the quality requirements of the emerging bioenergy market, to equipment manufacturers throughout the supply chain in preprocessing, densification, drying or other areas such as torrefaction. INL also

PHOTOS: MFA Oil Biomass

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has an extensive biomass library, with more than 60,000 samples from several dozen species that include the range of biomass from crop residues to grasses and woody biomass. The library includes characterizations of chemical and physical properties, with the ability to query the database to identify solutions to problems or match a biomass feedstock to various processes and pathways for conversion. While the first round of bioenergy development in the Midwest has focused on the use of crop residues and energy crops for biorefineries based on a defined feedstock supply radius and baled-materials shipping, the long-term vision of a biomassbased energy economy will require biomass feedstock to become a commodity. “One of the requirements for that,” Kenney says, “is that it has to be stable and transportable. Densification does that for us.” Author: Susanne Retka Schill Managing Editor, Pellet Mill Magazine 701-738-4922


Q&A Coming into the Country Superior Pellet Fuels General Manager Chad Schumacher talks about the long and winding road that led to the construction of Alaska’s first operating pellet mill. Tell us a little bit about how Superior Pellet Fuels got started.

In September 2010, the team at Superior Pellet Fuels LLC brought their pellet facility online but the plant’s story really begins in 2006. Initially conceived as home for the waste streams from a chipping facility, momentum for the plant’s construction picked up significantly in 2008 as energy prices in Alaska skyrocketed. Now the plant serves as a foundation from which the Alaskan biomass energy industry can build. While simultaneously working with institutional users to deploy pellet heat for their facilities, Chad Schumacher, general manager, is also responsible for expanding the plant’s product offerings and spearheading the never-ending pursuit for production perfection.

I was working for the import/export company in 2006 when we began to analyze changing from in-woods chipping operations to stationary chipping at the port facility. The biggest challenge in regard to a stationary chipper was disposing of residual materials. The pellet industry made sense to add value to this waste product. Once our pellet mill idea evolved, we began looking at potential markets overseas for the pellets. Then, domestic fuel prices increased in what seemed like overnight in 2008 and the opportunity for domestic sales erupted. The owner of our company, our company forester and I determined the raw material availability, high dependence on fuel oil for heating purposes and best location of the facility and formed Superior Pellet Fuels in late 2008 and began making plans for construction. I moved to Fairbanks to oversee the construction project and began preliminary marketing for our wood pellets, which morphed into overseeing all business operations when the mill began production in September 2010.

I have lived in Alaska for nearly 10 years now, and so much has happened it is difficult to attach the Iowan roots to this project. I moved to Alaska in early 2004 when a tremendous business opportunity became available with an import/export company focused largely on the export of wood chips for paper production. My position as the operations and logistics manager presented a great opportunity for a flatlander from Iowa to learn about the timber industry. This experience combined with a passion for renewable energy and local manufacturing led me to where I am today, managing Superior Pellet Fuels.



How does an Iowan end up running Alaska’s only pellet mill?

How long did it take to really perfect that art of pellet production once the facility was built and operational? Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever consider our product perfected. We are now producing pellets for our fourth heating season and have seen tremendous change in our raw material, manufacturing process and experience level with our operators. Every year we see significant

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improvement from the previous year’s quality standards and have modified our system numerous times to make sure this trend continues. For example, this fall we changed our feed system at the facility to incorporate an automated blending system with multiple conveyors. This has made our blend much more consistent and improved the overall quality of our pellet. Manufacturing premium grade pellets for residential heating provides the opportunity for many homeowner critics and until they are all completely satisfied with our locally manufactured product we will continue to strive for improvement.

and industrial pellet systems in Interior Alaska. We have worked directly with a number of small businesses to finance and install pellet burning systems including boilers, furnaces and stoves. We have paid for 100 percent of the upfront costs, including system purchase and installation of the system, and financed it with a payback based upon fuel cost savings. We have done this in order to grow the pellet industry and continue to encourage businesses and government agencies to consider utilizing a clean-burning, renewable fuel that offers a 40 percent reduction in heating costs versus fuel oil.

How would you describe the market for pellets in Alaska? Do you track pellet stove sales in the state or is there some other way to gauge growing demand?

You’ve added a logged product to your production environment. What drove that decision?

The Alaska pellet market is still at an infancy stage. It grows nearly exponentially each year and is driven by the recent availability of locally manufactured wood pellets, high heating costs, poor air quality issues and a focus on renewable energy. We work with most of the stove and boiler dealerships in Interior Alaska and track their pellet system sales in order to estimate product demand, but do not do it on a statewide basis. Since the state of Alaska is so large—nearly one-fifth of the entire land area of the United States—we only track the markets we can competitively reach. What role is the Superior Pellet Fuels team playing in market development in the state? We play a very hands-on role for the pellet industry’s development. Residential markets continue to develop at a rapid pace in Alaska due to the relatively low installation cost and quick payback based on fuel cost savings. The bigger challenge has been the installation of commercial

Market demand, air quality issues and economics based on operating efficiencies were all factors that urged us to install the wood pellet log production line. Conventional wood-burning systems such as wood stoves and fireplaces are still very popular in Alaska. Because of the high cost in fuel oil, we have seen the firewood market price increase to as high as $400 per cord. We wanted to address the needs of this market by producing a compressed-wood product with a controlled moisture content in order to provide a cleaner-burning, lower-emission alternative to cordwood at a lower cost than locally available processed firewood. Additionally, with the pellet industry still in its infancy stage, we are only producing at approximately 20 percent of our facility capabilities. We decided to install the pellet log system in order to utilize our labor pool on a year-round basis. This allows us to keep experienced labor employed on a constant basis and improves the overall labor cost for both of our products.

It appears that manufactured logs have a much lower emissions and particulate profile than simple cordwood. Why is that? The Fairbanks/North Pole area where our facility is located is a PM2.5 nonattainment area. Because of this determination, our local and state governments are focused to improve the air quality around the area and have rolled out efforts to educate wood burners through a “Split, Store, Stack & Save” campaign in order to emphasize the importance of using only dry wood. The compressed wood pellet logs ensure the users will have wood fuel available to burn immediately with a much improved combustion efficiency. The two factors that provide these assurances are the low-moisture content—approximately 8 percent, and the high density— greater than 80 pounds per cubic foot. There is a lot of open country all around your plant. Are there regular encounters with various critters at the plant? Whenever I talk with people from the Lower 48, two things always come up: wildlife and all of the television shows that give people horrible misconceptions about Alaska. As far as the wildlife goes, we have encountered a number of moose around the pellet facility but have been fortunate enough to have no issues with bears. And, as far as the TV shows go, I would encourage you and your readers to plan a trip to Alaska to see it for yourself. It is a truly beautiful place. Be sure to stop by Superior Pellet Fuels for an update on the Alaskan biomass industry.


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FREE WOOD FUEL PRICE DISCOVERY Biomass MarketWatch© is a state-of-the art software designed by Ecostrat for the biomass industry. Our fiber prices are real. Each blue point represents a qualified point source supply of fiber supply in North America: we have over 200,000 of them. The MarketWatch algorithm filters out suppliers more than 60 miles outside the chosen woodshed, it consolidates actual sell prices of suppliers within the project woodshed, it calculates transportation costs to the project site, and then aggregates this data into an estimate of delivered fiber cost. The result: quick, real-time, area-specific determinations of FOB purchase price for major categories of woody biomass. More than 100,000 impressions each month

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Be a Part of the Biggest Biomass Week of the Year! Co-located with the 2014 International Biomass Conference & Expo, being held in Orlando, Florida, the Pellet Supply Chain Summit will provide attendees with an overview of the latest information on how wood pellet exports are achieving record levels. In addition, attendees will hear firsthand from industry experts on how new production capacities are coming online and conversions overseas are accelerating. This summit will investigate the contributions of each stakeholder group along the supply chain and the challenges they’ll have to overcome as production and export capacity ramps up. In addition to networking sessions, the summit panels will cover: • Forest Inventories & Current Uses • Implementing & Documenting Sustainable Practices • Transport Logistics • Demand & Market Outlook




MARCH 24, 2014

Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, FL


Because the Pellet Supply Chain Summit is co-located with the International Biomass Conference & Expo, sponsorships are expected to quickly sell-out. Contact us at or call 866-746-8385 to learn more.







WHO SHOULD ATTEND? • Landowners • Local and regional economic development officers • Loggers • Logistics providers • Pellet manufacturers • Commodity brokers • Shipping companies • Port professionals

2014 Q1 Pellet Mill Magazine  
2014 Q1 Pellet Mill Magazine  

Pellet Mill Magazine delivers discerning, data-driven content—features, technical contributions and expert commentary—to professionals in th...