Biomass fuel pellets show promise

By Ryan C. Christiansen
Several wood pellet manufacturers are opening new plants in 2009. Here, EPM details the latest projects.

Indeck Energy Services Inc. in Buffalo Grove, Ill., plans to open the Indeck Magnolia Biofuel Center wood pellet production plant in Magnolia, Miss., in September. The company has a contract with a local provider for wood within 50 miles of the plant, according to Nunzio Maniaci, manager of business development for Indeck. He said presales for pellets have primarily been to customers in the northeastern U.S., including New England, New York and Pennsylvania. However, Indeck anticipates significant bulk sales to European markets, as well.

In the heart of the northeastern U.S. wood pellet market, Geneva Wood Fuels LLC plans to open its Strong Maine Wood Pellet facility in Strong, Maine, in early 2009. It will produce wood pellets for the home-heating market under the brand Maine's Choice, which will be sold exclusively by Foxborough, Mass.-based International Forest Products to distribution outlets in the Northeast and possibly Pennsylvania, according to Peter Keyes, president of solid products for International Forest Products. He said demand for wood pellets in the
Northeast is strong, fueled by a 500 percent increase in wood pellet stove sales in 2008.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute in Waseca, Minn., continue to test how energy crops in the U.S. can be made into pellets for combustion. In December, AURI and representatives from Hi-Tech Agro Projects Private Ltd., a biomass densification system manufacturer based in New Delhi, India, demonstrated the Hi-Tech Agro PL500 flat-die pellet mill that AURI is using in its lab. AURI demonstrated pelletizing distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) and also DDGS mixed with wheat middlings.

According to AURI, DDGS provides an average of 9,600 British thermal units (Btu) of energy per pound, and wheat middlings provide as much as 8,200 Btu per pound.