Demand for woody biomass for energy production is on the rise in developed nations, as publicly regulated utilities around the world shift from fossil and nuclear power to greener fuels.
Global industrial wood pellet demand is expected to more than double by 2020 to about 29 million metric tons from about 13 million tons in 2015, according to industry analysts Hawkins Wright Ltd.
One of the biggest producers and providers of wood pellets in the world, completes the commissioning of the first construction phase of the American plant in Urania, Louisiana.
Efforts to convert existing coal-fired power plants to wood pellet fueled boilers are generating growing demand for the wood fiber used to make the pellets, an ongoing trend. Engineered wood panel manufacturers have eyed this situation with trepidation, fearful of shortages of raw materials and increases in price of wood fiber.
Last fall, Active Energy Group in the U.K. and Biomass Energy Enhancements, based in Florida, formed AEG CoalSwitch Limited, to commercialize a new approach to converting biomass to clean energy fuel for use in traditional coal-fired power plants as a direct replacement for coal. Generally wood fiber has to be dessicated and compressed to provide a stable replacement for coal.
Helping raise interest was a European Union sponsored report issued July 2014 that pegged 30 European coal-fired power plants - known as the "Dirty 30" - whose CO2 emissions are seen as excessive. AEG says it intends to complete construction of the first high-volume CoalSwitch fuel manufacturing system by mid-2016.
In Japan, a return to wood as a source of cleaner energy is underway, reports Bloomberg News, but demand is outstripping supply. Demand for wood panel fiber is flat, so interest in woody biomass demand is welcomed by the country's forest products industry. Sixty-six percent of Japan's islands are forested, and it is believed there is a large supply of raw material available through aggressive forest thinning. The challenge is transport of the material, since there are limited roadways to these forests.
Japan's Biomass Industrial Society Network 2,000 megawatts of new woody biomass projects will require 40 million cubic meters of wood material a year, almost double Japan’s domestic wood production of about 23 million cubic meters annually. Bloomberg repots that a 5-megawatt plant typically draws the 60,000 tons of woody biomass it requires a year from an area within a 50-kilometer radius. That limiting the number of projects in any single prefecture to as few as one to guarantee supply, Yoshida said.
In the U.S., Enginuity Worldwide is developing technology for coal plant conversion to woody biomass. The Mexico, Missouri firm says more than 341 coal-fired plants are facing retirement because they can’t meet new environmental regulations. Analysts Hawkins Wright reports that Greenwood Resources is developing plantations of cottonwood and hybrid poplar varieties to investigate the commercial viability of woody energy crops. The first harvest is planned for next winter.
U.K.'s AEG says its WoodFibre division has also secured two significant new supply contracts for 2016, and that it is investing in a new softwood production line to augment its recently-upgraded hardwood processing facilities. A deal was signed on 15 January 2016 with Yildiz Entegre, the leading MDF manufacturer in Turkey, for 300,000 metric tons of hardwood wood fiber product, as well as up to another 200,000 metric tons of its new softwood wood fiber, expected to generate revenues of over $50 million in 2016. MDF, produced from a combination of hardwood and softwood wood fiber
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.