Symposium outlines details of pellet mill quality management

By Lisa Gibson | August 04, 2011

All pellet producers intending to qualify under the Pellet Fuels Institute’s new standards program will need to write a quality management program, as will any individual production facility the producer intends to qualify under the standards.

During an in-depth standards symposium on the last day of the PFI Annual Conference in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., in July, Chris Wiberg, chief operations officer of Twin Ports Testing and co-chair of the PFI Standards Committee, walked pellet manufacturers through the development of a quality assurance/quality control program.

Finding a template is the first step, followed by selecting the grade or grades that will be produced. The PFI standards, which are still in development, will dictate quality parameters for premium, standard, and utility grades. Subsequently, if a producer or plant will manufacture nongraded fuel, it will need to be separated from any graded fuel, Wiberg said.

A lengthy overview of the quality management program development process Wiberg outlined includes: training, documentation, records, management of change, raw material control, equipment and operating processes, QA/QC testing, third party inspection and monitoring, inspection criteria, storage/handling/delivery, and labeling, among others.

Any producer or plant that wishes to qualify for PFI’s standards must appoint a quality manager who is trained in quality control procedures and preferably is not responsible for production or finance, Wiberg said.  

The documentation aspect of a quality management program must encompass administrative, raw materials receiving, production, quality verification of finished product, periodic inspections and customer complaints, Wiberg said. All those documents must also be kept for a minimum of five years, along with inspection instructions, standard operating procedures, testing procedures, test reports and data generated.

Raw material is an important aspect of reaching the intended grade qualification and must be inspected upon receipt to verify minimum specifications are met. Those raw materials must not include chemically treated materials, Wiberg said. Adequate equipment must be available and regularly inspected, and QA/QC testing must be performed to demonstrate densified fuel compliance with the intended grade specifications. Any internal lab methods must be checked periodically against the test results from an accredited lab.

The standards program also specifies that audits will be conducted monthly, and any nonconforming materials must be identified, documented, segregated, evaluated and disposed of.

The PFI standards have been through some changes since the release of the initial draft in October. The standards and other related documents can be viewed on the PFI website:, as well as Wiberg’s presentation.