Safety on Top of the Agenda

By Christian Rakos | April 04, 2013

With the rapid expansion of pellet markets, safety concerns are becoming increasingly important. The high number of fires and explosions in pellet mills has let to a situation in Canada, for example, where it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a plant insured.

The urgency of the issues became evident in the First International Workshop on Pellet Safety, which took place in Fügen, Austria, March 4-6. In this column, I will recap what took place at the event.
More than 70 experts from 13 countries attended the workshop, which was convened by the European Pellet Council, the European Biomass Association and the Safe Pellets project. Participants included researchers, pellet producers, utilities, producers of pelleting and safety equipment and representatives of associations, inspection companies, investors and companies involved in pellet logistics.

The two most intensely debated topics were safety issues related to pellet storage and pellet production, followed by human health and safety, safety in transport and handling of second-generation pellets.

An issue most operators of large pellet storage silos deal with is self-heating, and most of the discussion was centered on possible influencing factors, and ways of adequately monitoring storage conditions. Researchers from the Safe Pellets project presented their ongoing investigations on self-heating, and it was agreed upon that close industry cooperation regarding this issue is needed. Besides topics related to large industrial storage, safety issues concerning small-scale domestic pellet storage were also discussed.

The second most hotly-debated issue was pellet production safety. A visit to the 100,000 metric-ton Binderholz pellet plant created an excellent opportunity to discuss safety issues right on the spot, and corresponding workshops focused on fire prevention and explosions in pellet production plants. Best practices for set-up and operation of pellet plants have not yet been established in Europe, but together with insurance companies, the Wood Pellet Association of Canada has developed a safety certification for pellet producers together, and is offering this certification scheme to Europe and the U.S. as a means of establishing a better level of general pellet production safety.

Another topic of discussion was how to enable the industry to share information about incidents, in order to enhance learning and speedy implementation of adequate safety measures for all potential risks. It was decided to begin work on a pellet safety handbook covering both production and issues along the diverse supply chains, and a working group was established to develop a guidance document that outlines occupational safety and health concerns related to pellet production and use.
Additionally, a Web-based communication platform for the pellet safety community will be established by the EPC in cooperation with the Safe Pellets project team. This platform will also allow anonymous reporting of safety-relevant events.

A follow-up event will be held in one year to learn about the results of ongoing research, report on results of activities and to debate  what more needs to be done to improve safety in the pellet sector.

Author: Christian Rakos
President, European Pellet Council
+43 2233 70146