Woody biomass: Demand and use in the U.S. and Europe

By Anna Austin | March 18, 2011

 One of the biggest hurdles for biomass cofiring across the globe is the lack of credit-worthy biomass supply chains capable of providing predictable and reliable deliveries of adequate biomass to support power generators investment into converting existing coal-fired assets to co-fired or dedicated biomass-to-energy facilities.

That’s the perspective of John Keppler, CEO of Enviva LP. “Success hinges on the right kind of quality feedstock delivered safely, reliably, and most importantly, sustainably,” he says. Enviva’s portfolio of operating plants in the wood biomass supply chain total more than 300,000 metric tons per year of combined capacity, with an additional 2.5 million tons of production in various stages of construction, permitting, and development.

The company’s customer base is mainly utility and industrial customers throughout Europe—it recently acquired a deep-water port terminal in Chesapeake, Va., for its export activities— but the company projects significant growth in the U.S. as well. “The potential for biomass in the U.S. is tremendous,” Keppler says. “Even a one percent coal displacement would be approximately 17 million metric tons of wood biomass per year.”

At the International Biomass Conference & Trade Show in St. Louis, May 2-5, Keppler will draw on his experience in renewable biomass energy, serving both European and U.S. customer bases, to discuss the benefits and challenges of the various forms of wood biomass combusted in large-scale applications. “Currently, many utilities and large industries cofire wood chips, which are relatively inexpensive,” he says. “This type of processed wood is typically sourced from stems, tops, limbs, branches, and foliage of mixed hardwood and softwood trees, and the size and diversity of this feedstock can limit usage. Wood pellets are a more reliable feedstock due to their uniform shape, high bulk density and high calorific value. Moreover, they have a much lower moisture content due to the processing procedure and therefore are ideal for transporting to domestic or international customers.”

Keppler will discuss the issues facing the wood biomass industry, growing feedstock demands in the U.S. and internationally, as well as primary drivers of market growth, during the conference panel titled Global Perspectives on Biomass-Based Energy Opportunities.

Keppler will be joined by fellow panelists Rob Toker, vice president of partnerships and market research at Glycos Biotechnologies Inc.; Bengt-Erik Löfgren, CEO of ÄFAB Älvdalens Fastbränsle AB; Jean-Paul Crouzoulon, senior president of operations at Areva Renewables North America, and panel moderator Richard Weiner, Vice President of Fredrikson & Byron P.A.