EIA begins monthly reporting of wood pellet data

By Erin Voegele | December 14, 2016

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has published the initial results of a new survey launched in January 2016 to gather information on wood pellets and other densified biomass production, sales and inventory.

The survey gathers data from operating pellet plants in the U.S. Facilities with an annual capacity of 10,000 or more tons report data monthly, while smaller facilities file annual reports.

According to the EIA, it conducted the first survey of densified biomass fuel manufacturers in January, with data collected from 119 facilities. Fourteen of those facilities were planned or under construction, and expected to begin operating within one year. Seventeen of the facilities had capacity of less than 10,000 tons per year, and are not required to complete the EIA’s monthly survey. The remaining facilities reported their production and sales data for January 2016.

The data shows the U.S. currently has 11.52 million metric tons of existing pellet production capacity, with an additional 2.74 million metric tons planned or under construction.

Information released by the EIA shows facilities required to file monthly reports had a combined capacity annual production capacity of 11.4 million tons. Collectively, these facilities had an equivalent of 2,252 full-time employees. For January 2016, survey respondents reported purchasing 1.3 million tons of feedstock, producing 600,000 million tons of densified biomass fuel product. Total sales for January were 500,000 tons, with approximately 31 percent sold into the domestic market and 69 percent exported.

As of January, most pellet production capacity was concentrated in the South U.S., with 10.82 million tons, followed by 2.86 million tons in the East and 1.15 million tons in the West. Approximately 421,133 tons of utility pellets were produced in January, along with 173,445 tons of heating pellets. According to the EIA, 318,480 tons of pellets were sold into export markets, with 139,926 tons sold into domestic markets.

During the first half of 2016, the EIA noted U.S. manufacturers produced approximately 3.3 million tons of wood pellets and sold 3.1 million tons, mostly into foreign markets. Also during the first half of the year, approximately 82 percent of pellet sales were utility pellets sold into export markets, with more than 85 percent of that volume sold to the Drax power plant in the U.K. The remaining 18 percent of pellet sold were sold into the U.S. heating market.

From January through June, the South produced and sold virtually all the utility-grade pellets. The East produced 61 percent of the heating pellets, but sold only 43 percent, while the South produced 17 percent and sold 33 percent and the West produced 22 percent and sold 24 percent of the heating pellets. Lower biomass sales in the East last winter were attributed record-high temperatures.

According to the EIA, its next data release on the pellet industry will contain several months of data. In the following months, data will be released as collection and quality measures are completed.