Consistency is Key

A wood pellet may be just a wood pellet to the buyer, but to manufacturers, it’s much more than that.
By Anna Simet | March 25, 2020

When wood pellets have completed their long journey from the woods to the consumer, most users haven’t the slightest idea of the enormous amount of processing their fuel has been through. A wood pellet may be just a wood pellet to the buyer, but to manufacturers, it’s much more than that. As stated by Jason Kessler, CEO of Kesco Inc., “engineered biofuel” is much more accurate.

In “The Continual Pursuit of Fiber Consistency” on page 17, written by Ron Kotrba, senior editor, Kessler—as well as several other experts in the fiber processing industry—share insight about the many factors that play into raw material quality and consistency, and how those factors influence other operating parameters. According to Mike Curci of Andritz North America, “Although product quality is highly important, it isn’t the only parameter affected by inconsistent feedstock…consistency will greatly impact operational costs. If your raw material moisture is 10 percent one day and the next it’s 7 percent, that drastically influences the product, and there’s a wide range in operational costs. If it jumps too much, you can lose a lot of money.”

Electricity use constitutes a whopping 30 percent of wood pellet manufacturing costs, Curci adds. In an industry with typically tight margins, straying upward from that number could have some significant impacts on a facility’s bottom line.

You’ll find more on the topic of fiber sourcing, receiving and storage in our page-6 column by Chris Wiberg of Timber Products Inspection and Biomass Energy Laboratory.  Picking up on his thread from the last issue, Wiberg identifies common causes of off-spec product. Previously, Wiberg discussed topics including moisture, ash and chlorine, and in this column moved onto bulk density, durability, pellet length and heavy metals. Off-spec product causes is a complex issue with many possible contributing factors, but I’m confident this two-part series will provide some very helpful guidance for keeping product in line with specs and troubleshooting problems.

The final story I will mention is the profile I wrote on Wood & Sons’ new pellet plant in Sanford, Maine, “An Identity and Passion,” on page 17. The story attracted my attention for this particular issue of Pellet Mill Magazine because the facility sources 100 percent of its raw material from the sawmill that it’s colocated with, as well as several other nearby mills. Considering the money a typical pellet producer spends on fiber transportation, Wood & Sons is able to cut that cost down significantly.

Although this model won’t work everywhere, there is still potential to replicate it in other Maine locations, says Tony Woods, Wood & Sons vice president. “There are a lot of pretty sizeable facilities [sawmills] in Maine—the one we’re at is relatively small—so there are many opportunities for this kind of thing,” he says. “We’re the only pellet mill in the state colocated at a sawmill.”

But no matter how close or far a plant's raw material is sourced from, it's imperative to know what to expect, make it known what you accept, and possess the knowledge and skill to manage fiber streams to mesh with process equipment while meeting product specs.

That reads like an awfully complicated lift, because well, it is.


Author: Anna Simet