WRQ releases wood pellet stats

By Ron Kotrba
Web exclusive posted March 5, 2009, at 11:53 a.m. CST

According to Wood Resources Quarterly's recent global wood pellet production numbers for 2008, close to 10 million tons of pellets were produced last year. WRQ projects that this number will double over the next four to five years. While the biggest wood pellet market is still Europe, WRQ predicts that the U.S. will catch up as a result of policies to come from the new Obama administration.

"The new leadership in the U.S. government is going to have a positive impact on alternative fuel usage and the expected change in energy policy could very well result in increased imports of pellets from Canada to the U.S., which will eventually diminish the flow of biomass from North America to Europe," WRQ stated in a press release. "As a result, European pellet consumers will have to search for alternative supply sources in Asia, Latin America, Africa and Russia."

While the traditional source for wood-pellet fiber has been sawdust and shavings from the sawmilling industry, WRQ noted that this supply has begun to "tap out," and alternative fiber from forest residues, urban wood waste, and fast-growing tree species is now being sought.

Out of the 10 million tons of pellets produced in 2008, WRQ noted that an estimated 25 percent of that, or close to 2.5 million tons, was exported from the country in which the pellets were produced.

"Most of the overseas volume was shipped from British Columbia (Canada) to Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden, despite the seemingly prohibitively costly 15,000-kilometer (9,321-mile) journey from the interior of British Columbia to the European market," stated WRQ, adding that the low cost for raw material in Canada along with the high prices for wood pellets in Europe more than justify transportation costs for the long haul across the Atlantic Ocean.

WRQ posed an interesting question however: "The question is how long expansion of the overseas water-borne transport will continue to grow, given the uncertainty of future costs of oil and the paradox of consuming large quantities of low-refined heavy fuel oils for the shipments of green energy to European customers."