Biomass Magazine webinar addresses European demand for pellets

By Chris Hanson | June 27, 2013

With more than 500 registrants, Biomass Magazine successfully launched its new webinar series with the first session focusing on the growing European demand for American wood pellets.

Tim Portz, executive editor of Biomass Magazine, hosted and kicked off the event with an overview of his visits to the Georgia Biomass facility in Waycross, Ga., the Port of Brunswick in southeast Georgia, Port of Hull in the U.K. and the largest power plant in the U.K, Drax Power Station. Highlights included photographs of a cargo ship, the Kroningsburg, being loaded with wood pellets destined for the Port of Hull, as well reviewing the biomass power retrofits being completed at Drax Power Station.

To demonstrate the enormity of the Drax facility, Portz showcased 12 hyperboloid cooling towers that service six turbine sets, each generating roughly 660 MW of power. Being the largest producer of CO2 emissions in the U.K., the power plant is using a three-part plan to lower its CO2 output due to European incentives and mandates. This includs upgrading to more efficient turbines, co-firing or repowering with biomass fuel, and employing emerging carbon capture and storage technologies.

Seth Ginther, executive director of the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association, showcased policy drivers and updates in the European market. In 2012, 4.36 million metric tons of biomass shipped to the E.U., he said. U.S. exports comprised 36 percent of that figure, overtaking Canada in production capacity.

The E.U. is interested in North American biomass is for three reasons. Ginther said sustainable forestry practices in the U.S. and Canada, large quantities of natural resources and stable political climate have made North America a good source of biomass fuel. “When somebody certifies something is indeed sustainable, that is something a European generator can literally take to the bank,” Ginther added. “You might not be able to say that about biomass that comes from other areas of the world.”

Ginther also covered how policy drivers, such as the renewables obligation certificates (ROC) and increasing carbon pricing, have driven biomass derived power in the E.U. If the incentive program, the ROCs, were to expire, the increasing carbon pricing could still promote biomass’ utilization, he said. “All of this is policy driven,” Ginther explains. “Without the renewable obligation certificate or the carbon price floor, it would actually be uneconomic for generators to use biomass.”

Dave Tenny, CEO and president of the National Alliance of Forest Owners, provided an update on the growth of the industrial pellet industry, specifically where the industry has been, where it is going and what obstacles are present. Tenny said U.S. has demonstrated its ability to sustainably supply materials to a growing market over time.    

“If you look at what’s happening in the U.S. in what we accomplished during this time of rapid growth and consumption,” Tenny explains, “our forests today are sequestering, on net, somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 million metric tons of CO2 every year.” He added that amount is roughly 12 percent of the U.S. total carbon emissions even after harvesting wood for building material, energy use and paper production.

As for threats facing the industry, Tenny focused primarily on the loss of forests. He reported that 37 to 40 million acres could be lost over the next 50 years due to converting forested land to other uses. “It’s hard to have a sustainable forest practice if you don’t have the forest to begin with,” he said.