Opportunities for wood pellets made of sawdust in the Netherlands

By Erin Voegele | May 22, 2018

The government of the Netherlands has filed a report with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service’s Global Agricultural Information Network outlining current market opportunities for wood pellets.

According to the report, the Dutch government subsidies the cofiring of biomass. The funding is linked with complex sustainability criteria that must be demonstrated by the forest owner, although some flexibility is provided for small landowners. Currently, the report notes that one of the best opportunities is for the supply of wood pellets made from sawdust.

The report explains that the Dutch Energy Accord was implemented in 2013, setting a national goal of 14 percent sustainable energy generation in 2020, increasing to 16 percent in 2023. The cofiring of biomass is capped at 3.5 million tons of wood pellets annually. Under the accord, biomass is subject to sustainability requirements, including forest level certification, information on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, carbon debt and indirect land use change.

“The main barrier for exports of wood pellets to the Netherlands from the United States is the lack of incentives for small landowners in the Southeast to certify their land for wood pellet production,” said the authors in the report.

Forest level certification is required for forest management units greater than 500 hectares (1,235.53 acres) in size, and is phased in for small forest management units over the next four years. As of 2022, the report states that forest level certification is required for all forest management units. However, there are some additional options that can allow small landowners to be eligible to supply biomass for subsidized cofiring in the Netherlands.

These options include group certification, which allows for certification programs such as the Sustainable Biomass Program and others.

A second options allows for controlled wood as an alternative to certified wood. The report explains that controlled wood is sourced form sustainable sources with a minimum risk of unacceptable harvesting. Compliance can be proven by the pellet mill through certification or verification with a regional risk-based approach. The report notes that the controlled wood option is permitted for up to 30 percent of annual biomass deliveries to an energy producer.

A third option is the use of residues from saw mills. The report explains that residues from saw mills are only required to meet requirements related to GHG calculation and chain of custody. According to the report, Dutch buyers have recently been sourcing residue-based pellets from European sources. However, these supplies are limited and the U.S. could be an alternative source.

Fourth, the Dutch government allows the option of verification as an alternative to certification. The report explains verification compliance is provided at the delivery of biomass to the import market. Similar to certification, verification at the forest level is required for larger forest management units, and phased in for smaller units. 

A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the USDA FAS GAIN website.