ENplus: The US Perspective

The ENplus quality certification scheme serves an important role for U.S. wood pellet producers, but there is at least one key issue that has limited its adoption within the U.S.
By Chris Wiberg | April 05, 2019

For the January/February issue of Pellet Mill Magazine, Ron Kotrba wrote an article focused on the ENplus wood pellet certification scheme, and included viewpoints from several stakeholders. After reading the article, I thought it would be well timed to provide a summary of the ENplus program regarding how it has been implemented in the U.S. As the Wood Pellet Association of Canada’s Executive Director Gordon Murray pointed out, the U.S. does not have a national licenser so the mode by which certification is gained is different than in Canada. And as Bruce Lisle of Energex said, managing the cost of wood pellet certification schemes in general can be tricky if you are also implementing other certifications, such as the PFI Standards Program. The following is a summary of the status of the ENplus program in the U.S.

The European Pellet Council is the overall owner of the ENplus wood pellet quality certification scheme, but EPC allows national wood pellet trade associations to manage the scheme in their respective countries. In Canada, WPAC applied to EPC for national licensor, and was awarded the responsibility. This means that for all Canadian companies wishing to certify to ENplus, the overall program is managed directly through WPAC. EPC has not awarded the national licensor responsibilities to any of the U.S. national associations, so U.S. companies wishing to certify to ENplus need to work directly with EPC. 

The certification process itself is essentially the same within the U.S. and Canada. Approved ENplus inspection bodies are used to conduct an audit of the wood pellet production site, and approved testing bodies are used to verify that the manufactured product is in conformance with the ENplus grade requirements. Nonconformances are documented, and an overall inspection report is provided to a certification body for review. Once the production site is confirmed to be in conformance with ENplus, the certification body submits a conformity report to EPC (or WPAC in Canada) for completion of the licensing agreement. Once the licensing agreement is finalized, the certification body issues the formal certificate, as well as the certification seals and logos. Approved inspection and testing bodies are listed on the EPC and WPAC websites. Control Union is the certification body for both the U.S. and Canada. Annual reporting and payment of program royalties is coordinated directly through EPC or WPAC.

Aside from the nuts and bolts of how to get certified, the bigger issue for ENplus in the U.S. has been competition with the PFI Standards Program. The certification schemes are very similar when it comes to the process of managing quality at the production site and in overall cost, but the grade criteria for each is different, inspection mechanisms are different, and there are enough other differences to keep these schemes as separate certifications. Market dynamics have historically played a large part in determining which certification scheme is adopted at a production site.  For the U.S. residential heating market, while both certification schemes are referenced in the U.S. EPA’s New Source Performance Standards as acceptable programs, the PFI Standards Program has the greatest recognition by retailers and consumers. Therefore, if the primary focus is on the U.S. residential heating market, then the plant generally gets PFI certified. Conversely, if the primary focus is to sell into the European residential heating market, then ENplus is the preferred option. In some instances, U.S. wood pellet producers have found value in certifying to both PFI and ENplus, but in most cases, producers choose one or the other, depending on which yields greater value for their intended markets. Currently, there are 35 production sites certified to PFI and 10 certified to ENplus. There are two sites certified to both PFI and ENplus. Geographically, the majority of the PFI-certified plants are in regions where the domestic heating season is long, and ENplus-certified plants are predominantly located in warmer regions that have access to overseas shipping ports. 

So, what do you do if you want to sell into both the U.S. and European residential heating markets? In a few cases, producers have certified to both PFI and ENplus, but this has been relatively uncommon due to an issue with the ENplus royalty system.  To calculate royalties, ENplus takes total production and subtracts tonnages sold to power companies and tonnages sold as animal bedding. The remaining tonnage is assessed the ENplus royalty (assuming it is considered ENplus compliant and being sold into a heating market), whether it is sold under the ENplus seal or not (e.g., product sold under the PFI quality mark is still assessed an ENplus royalty fee if it is considered to comply with ENplus). This situation has prevented several U.S. wood pellet producers from pursuing ENplus certification. As a result, ENplus is more commonly adopted by producers that have a strong focus on selling into the European heating market, or are largely producing fuel for power plants but can make a dedicated batch of ENplus product for the European residential heating market, without incurring royalties on the balance of their production.

The ENplus quality certification scheme serves an important role for U.S. wood pellet producers, but as Kotrba’s article brings to light, there is at least one key issue that has limited its adoption within the U.S. Fortunately, ENplus is undergoing revisions and the issue has been acknowledged by EPC, so timing is good to discuss this situation and perhaps reasonable adjustments can be made to allow for greater adoption within the U.S.

Author: Chris Wiberg
Manager, Biomass Energy Laboratory
[email protected]