Building on Success

By Lisa Gibson | April 05, 2012

I’ve heard the term up-and-coming used to describe the wood pellet industry in the U.S., but from my perspective, it’s already here. At this point, I would say it’s simply continuing to expand.

Export markets and global demand that North American pellet mills are expected to satisfy seem to increase a bit with each new study released. Development in the Southeast U.S. is explosive and port authorities are taking notice, expanding their own capabilities to accommodate the new opportunities afforded to them through the pellet industry’s growth.

While multiple producers are positioning themselves to take advantage of the massive foreign demand, even more are happy with the domestic market they supply here, mainly in residential heating applications. In the West, pellet mills are using wood that has fallen victim to the pine beetle infestation, helping to remove dead and dying material that could interfere with forest health. Read more about the epidemic and its causes in a feature article by Associate Editor Anna Austin beginning on page 14.

In the Northeast U.S., some state-level policies and reports are illustrating current and projected pellet popularity. Both New Hampshire and Maine have added wood pellets to their fuel price reports, and a residential pellet boiler subsidy program in Berlin, N.H., has been extended indefinitely. The program aims to assist with installations of residential boilers for homeowners switching to pellet fuel. Its organizers say interest in pellet heat is growing in the Northeast and the program can help more people save money on heating bills.

And pellets are in the spotlight even on the federal level. In March, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that wood pellet boilers will be classified as a conventional, primary heating source, and therefore will qualify for Federal Housing Authority funding, provided they meet the other guidelines. HUD officials admitted the agency was perhaps behind the times in recognizing pellet boilers as a qualifying technology and promised that the handbooks would be updated to reflect the new classification.

As the industry continues to evolve from its already-healthy position, there is no shortage of new ideas and ingenuity. Starting on page 28, Associate Editor Luke Geiver showcases some innovative pellet boiler installations that set themselves apart in areas ranging from feedstock handling to overall design and appearance.

The pellet industry has arrived and is continuing its U.S. growth in both the domestic and export markets. Producers here are recognized as major players on the world stage.

And they’re prepared to provide millions of tons of pellets to keep that stage warm and bright.