Viaspace eyes overseas pellet opportunities

By Anna Austin | July 14, 2011

California-based Viaspace Inc. has reported that SGS North America Inc.’s Mineral Service Division has completed testing of its Giant King Grass pellets. Results indicate that the pellets, which were 7 millimeters (0.27 inches) in diameter with lengths between 17 and 45 millimeters, have a gross calorific value of 7,724 Btu per dry pound, or 10 gigajoules per dry kilogram. 

Viaspace CEO Carl Kukkonen is optimistic about the test results and said the company is currently in negotiations for some pellet supply contracts. “We’re working with a pellet equipment manufacturer to buy equipment to set up a mill at our property in China,” he said.

Viaspace currently has a 280-acre nursery/test plantation of GKG in China.

Kukkonen said that while ag pellets such as GKG pellets generally have slightly lower energy content and produce more ash than wood pellets, there will be a need eventually for a wood pellet substitute because of growing worldly demands and the slower growth rate of trees. “Giant King Grass can be planted and harvested in the first four to six months, whereas a tree, if you’re looking at sustainable growth, can take four to 20 years,” he said.

Viaspace is exploring its global pellet supply opportunities, Kukkonen said, and has a memorandum of understanding with California-based General Biofuels Inc. to develop a GKG pellet project in the Dominican Republic. “We’d grow GKG and pelletize it using a co-located model, and then bulk ship the pellets from a port in the Dominican to customers in Europe,” he said.

If the company can soon close contract negotiations with General Biofuels, which is also developing separate wood pellet projects in Georgia and Canada, Kukkonen said he estimates that initial production of the GKG pellets could begin by the end of 2012. He added that the shipping cost from the Dominican Republic to Europe is about $32 per metric ton of pellets, which is close to the cost of shipping from other countries such as the Philippines and Thailand.

While Viaspace has a focus on the aforementioned countries to produce pellets for the Asian and European pellet markets, the company also plans to begin testing the growth of GKG and exploring opportunities in the U.S., Kukkonen said.