Biomass for Heat: Think It, Speak It, Promote It!

The domestic pellet industry needs to emulate other U.S. or Canadian businesses: we are going to have to promote our product.
By John Crouch | December 20, 2013

Biomass is a pretty generic term. For some it means algae or ethanol for liquid fuels, or wood chips for co-gen electricity. For most readers of Pellet Mill Magazine, biomass either refers to pellets for export or, if your focus is North America, it means heat.

For far too many pellet producers and advocates in the U.S. and Canada, promotion is not high on the list of things they think about. Does everyone think another energy crisis is going to ‘float our boats’, like it did in 2005 and 2008?  

The domestic pellet industry needs to emulate other U.S. or Canadian businesses: we are going to have to promote our product. We must tell our story of the profound value of pellet heat to the large number of North American households that are unable to gorge on cheap natural gas for much of the next decade.

True, we do a lot of promotion now, both individually and collectively, but look at industry websites. Not just the Pellet Fuel Institute, Biomass Thermal Energy Council or BBI International websites, but those of individual pellet producers. We have to sell the pellet value proposition on every website, in every article, and on every bag we ship. Pellets save you money! Period. End of story.

These savings are not just for your household, but also for your school district, your community’s rural hospitals, office buildings or grocery stores, to name a few examples. Pellet heat saves money for rural U.S. and Canada consumers.

So what does this mean in practice? Does your website total up the millions of gallons of fuel oil or LP your company has saved consumers since you opened? If your mill has been making pellets for 10 years, that is a lot of gallons of avoided energy costs. 

During a panel that PFI sponsored at last month’s Woodstove Design Challenge, in Washington, D.C., speakers discussed the benefits of heating with pellets. Richard Thomas of Courtland Hearth & Hardware announced that his calculations show that stores in Maryland have helped displace the use of approximately 25,000 barrels of oil per year, because of the 10,000 tons of pellets his pellet stove customers purchase on an annual basis. I served as moderator of the panel, which also included Stephen Faehner of American Wood Fibers and Carroll Hudson of England’s Stove Works. We highlighted the cost savings, convenience and environmental benefits offered by wood pellets with an audience that included potential consumers, long-time users of pellet appliances and representatives from the U.S. Forest Service.

Richard Thomas isn’t leaving the promotion of heating with pellets to someone else, he’s doing it. North American pellet producers who are not exporting cannot leave the promotion to Richard, or for that matter, to other appliance retailers or manufacturers. Sure, these folks need to promote pellet heat to sell their appliances, and are doing so, but everyone has to promote the simple idea that pellet heat saves money.

Certainly, this is not a new idea. John Shimek of Hearth & Home Technologies, drove this point home at the PFI Breakfast in Orlando last March. Richard Thomas moderated a panel featuring long-time industry players at the PFI Annual Conference last July, where the same concept was discussed. The conversation continues offline and focuses on growing the consumer base for the domestic heat market and working toward a larger market for pellets beyond residential heating. We should all think about what we can do to promote these concepts. 

Highlighting cost savings is key and, for any consumer audience, should be bullet point No. 1. But, we must think about the desires of many consumers to save money and lessen their environmental impact. Understanding the concept of sustainability and how it impacts consumer choice must be thought out and incorporated into our messaging.  

What does your website say? How much fossil energy has your mill, retail store or manufacturing facility helped families and rural institutions replace since it first opened? Do the math, take a shot at it. We’ve got to cement the value proposition that our industry is saving folks money in North America and elsewhere, every day of every heating season, and we’ve been doing it for over 25 years.

Yes, the term biomass means a lot of things, but not nearly enough people associate it with saving money on their home heating bill. Yet. 

Author: John Crouch
Director of Affairs, Pellet Fuels Institute
[email protected]