The US Industrial Pellet Association’s (USIPA) annual Exporting Pellets Conference has earned a reputation as a "must-attend" event, penciled on the calendars for many involved in the industrial wood pellet value chain – producers, traders, shippers, energy utilities, certification bodies, and tech providers to mention a few. This year’s edition, set to take place on October 16-18, 2023 in Miami Beach, is exceptional in this regard – seldom has the program had so much to offer as it has in this year's edition.
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It is a sign of the times, and with close to 350 pax registered to come to Miami Beach a week or so in advance of the conference, it is already a record-breaking event in terms of attendance if memory serves correctly.
The new hotel venue where USIPA 2023 will be held also provides a refreshing change of (hotel) scenery, and according to the organizers, shows promise in terms of being more “networking friendly” which bodes well.
The comprehensive two-and-half-day program (three days if you are a USIPA Member) contains a number of new(s) items, sessions, and panels. For the eagle-eyed, at least one news item can be spotted in the full program.
Apart from the usual – and well-received one should add – expert global- and regional heat, and power market updates, trade flows, regional policy overviews, and the signature consumer- and industry panels, there are now full-blown dedicated sessions on sustainability, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), net‑zero shipping, and academic RD&D pertinent to the industry.
These are all welcome features providing the 11th USIPA Exporting Pellets Conference with a program containing a holistic value-chain context in a time when technologies, policies, and sectors converge, merge, and remerge into new businesses, and constellations.
A thought experiment to illustrate – take the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a large-scale pellet plant with a biogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) source and heat demand, a CO2-to-methanol technology, and a pellet shipper with methanol dual-fuel vessels. Put these all into a Delaware SPV and what might you get?
Or take a US coal-fired power plant (of which there are many as highlighted at previous USIPA conferences) upstream of the Mississippi and/or one of her tributaries pondering a Drax-like coal conversion to BECCS?
The outcome of such questions would undoubtedly feature at a near future USIPA conference.
Back in Europe, European pellet producers managed to avert a total meltdown in the residential sector during the 2022/2023 heating season reducing reputational damage with consumer hotlines and pushing for national reserve inventory regulations.
The relentless grind of Putin’s war machine in Ukraine continues to wreak havoc, suffering, and bloody mayhem on Ukrainians. Compared to last year, European utilities, industries, and households would seem to be in better shape going into the 2023/2024 season compared to the 2022/2023 season – if current consumer energy pricing and fuel inventory are metrics to go by.
Although fossil gas inventories have been replenished, renewable power capacity has increased, and the number of heating degree days (HDD) has remained below average, Europe is by no means out of the woods yet.
Wood pellet production capacity has increased over the period but so too has demand. The economic sanctions imposed by the EU justifiably continue to restrict the import of roundwood, woodchips, and pellets from Belarus and Russia, the full extent of which is showing, at least in the Nordic-Baltic Sea region.
While primarily destined for residential and space heating markets, the shortfall is still in the region of perhaps two “Enviva-scale” facilities of ENplus-certified products, though eminent speakers in the know will have far more accurate data and actionable insights to share at USIPA 2023.
Nonetheless, certification recognition, or the lack of it, was a catch issue lifted at last year’s USIPA conference by Pellet Fuel Institute (PFI) – has any progress been made to narrow the certification gap, even with temporary measures for contingency situations?
Regulatory-wise in Europe, the UK Government recently launched its Biomass Strategy, a move largely welcomed by stakeholders including USIPA not least on account of a priority role for BECCS.
The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED III) is just a formal Council adoption away, while the new Regulation on deforestation-free products – which replaced the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) – entered into force on June 29, 2023.
The latter is anticipated by EU legislators to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and biodiversity loss. What does this mean for US pellet producers given that only 13 percent of US forests are under some form of sustainability certification?
Development in Southeast Asia is another topic that speakers and participants at USIPA’s Exporting Pellets Conference will continue to provide initiated insights into. Traditionally as a market destination, however, in recent times intra-regional production and trade have spilled over into Europe.
Both ENplus-certified and non-certified volumes are finding their way into the European markets from among other countries China, the pellet-producing and consuming elephant in the room. Then there is Latin America and the Caribbean – emerging producer and consumer regions.
With these and other questions in mind, Miami Beach and USIPA’s Exporting Pellets Conference 2023 is, unequivocally, the place to be to get the lowdown. If you’re sitting on the fence about participation, note too that in an era of hybrid events with online- and onsite participation options, USIPA 2023 is strictly onsite participation only.