Mission Biomass Mobilization

The annual Exporting Pellets Conference left no stone unturned in discussions about the ever-expanding applications for sustainable biomass.
By Anna Simet | November 29, 2022

The 2022 Exporting Pellets Conference returned to Miami Beach in October, drawing a diverse mix of bioenergy industry stakeholders from all over the world. At the famous Fontainebleau resort, attendees convened in the afternoon on Oct. 2. The World Bioenergy Association’s Christian Rakos, master of ceremonies, opened the event, describing the present as “a decisive time in this sector. I think it’s a time to keep our eyes and ears wide open to be well connected, and to hear any different views of the world in this respect,” he said. After a brief welcome, Rakos introduced Thomas Meth, chairman of USIPA and president of Enviva, for a state-of-the-industry discussion that emphasized how some of the most significant current events—whether directly are indirectly—are related to critical discussion topics at the conference. “I have been doing this for 20 years, but until two or three years ago, this was really about manufacturing wood pellets for the power and heat sector,” Meth said. “And now, it’s an entirely different world. We’ve had the pandemic, we’ve had supply disruptions, we’ve had regulatory confusion, we have the war in Ukraine—which of course is unbelievably sad—and we had a hurricane just a few days ago, on the outside of Florida. You have to stop and think about the devastation; it’s deeply troubling and saddening. And at the same time, it reminds us that we are really here to fight for a better outcome for climate change. And that has motivated and been a great passion for me … and I know that’s why all of you have come back here, to this conference, in 2022.”

At the annual event—which took a hiatus in 2020 and 2021, due to the pandemic—one of USIPA’s goals is to create a snapshot of where the industry is, Meth said. “Of course, that means we’ll talk about the elements that have allowed us to grow to what we’ve become so far, but we’re also going to have all sorts of variables—liquid [biofuels] and other industries that we historically haven’t dealt with.”

But whatever the technology or end product, it always comes down to one point, Meth emphasized. “And that is, where will the feedstock come from, and how do we ensure it’s sustainable, that it will be there tomorrow? How can we scale it in a way that matters? How do we bring it from place A to place B? [Place] A being where it available in large quantities in a sustainable manner, to B, where it’s most useful. Those places are typically not in the same spot. That’s the basis of why we exist.”

For the past 10 years, USIPA has been a successful, true force when it comes to educating stakeholders and ensuring that a backbone is in place for the industry to do business, Meth said. “And the role of USIPA has never been more important,” he added. “When you think about the discussions in Europe and the European parliament, if we don’t make our case—particularly the noise of ideology versus national security driven by energy—the case will be made for us. It has never been more important that we support industry associations like USIPA, to allow them to put our best foot forward.”

Meth reiterated how imperative it is that as much sustainable biomass as possible is mobilized for the many different potential applications available today. “It’s not only sustainability—though without it, the rest doesn’t matter—we also have to make the case for the good outcomes it creates … for the concepts of national security and energy shortages—this has never been more prominent in our industry than it is today. When we think about the discussion in the U.S., how the government can help Europe more quickly decrease its dependence on Russian gas, wood pellets do play a role. This isn’t just about gas—this is about biomass mobilization.” 

From biochemicals to green hydrogen, energy from woody biomass isn’t something of the past, from Meth’s perspective. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite.”

Author: Anna Simet
Editor, Pellet Mill Magazine
[email protected]

Photos by Tim Portz