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Fuelling the energy transition with pellets

Fuelling the energy transition with pellets
Early morning session chair duty for Gordon Murray, WPAC from Vancouver, Canada in the afternoon session with Martin Benteke, DEPV, Germany discussing the anticipated expansion of both German pellet production and demand.

Held annually as part of World Sustainable Energy Days (WSED), this year’s edition of the European Pellet Conference (EPC) brought much of the bioenergy community back to Wels in Upper Austria.

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Held as one of the first major international pellet events post-COVID-19, over 650 experts from 55 countries took part in the special hybrid edition of the WSED.

According to the organizers, OÖ Energiesparverband (OÖESV) – the energy agency of Upper Austria – more than 60 percent participated on-site, albeit donning facemasks during the four-day WSED event, which also included access to the concurrent tradeshow “We build – Energiesparmesse”.

A tradeshow that had strong participation of pellet stove- and boiler technologies.

Building back better with bioheat

Held on April 6, 2022, the European Pellet Conference started off with the strategy session “Fuelling the energy transition with pellets!”.

Launched in July 2021, the European Commission’s “Fit for 55” package aims to put the EU on track toward climate neutrality. Energy accounts for 75 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

As a carbon dioxide (CO2) neutral fuel, biomass is seen as a key pillar for decarbonization and for the success of the clean energy transition in Europe and globally. Outlining the need to address climate change and replace Russian fossil fuels, Johannes Bauer, European Commission, DG Energy discussed how bioenergy could benefit from the “Fit for 55” package.

Bioenergy will have a signifi cant increase in 2050 when the energy mix will be fully decarbonized, Bauer remarked.

Irene di Padua, Policy Director at Bioenergy Europe, highlighted that space heating (and cooling) of buildings represent 40 percent of the EU’s energy consumption and that 75 percent of this energy is sourced from fossil fuels.

Within the heating and cooling market, the residential heat market is perhaps “the most relevant market opportunity” for pellets and modern pellet appliances – Upper Austria is a showcase in point.

Europe’s heating appliance stock is just getting older. Almost one in four heating appliances is thirty years or more, and 60 percent of appliances are inefficient. So, there is an urgent need to replace these systems with modern biomass installations like pellets, Irene di Padua said, adding that the Renewable Energy Directive (REDIII), Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) being the main policy drivers.

Ramping up in the World of Pellets

The following pellet innovation session covered topics as diverse as Austrian pellet boiler innovations, pellet marketing, consumer branding, and tax credits for pellet boilers in the United States (US), to health and safety issues surrounding pellet production and storage.

The final “World of Pellets” session, saw international experts offer updates and outlooks on pellet markets around the world. Amongst other things Thomas Meth, President of Enviva Inc, the world’s largest pellet producer, elaborated on the just announced US$250 million investment to build a new pellet production plant in Bond, Mississippi (MS).

The session also put the hybrid aspect of the conference to the test.

It was chaired by Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC) and European Pellet Council board member Gordon Murray, in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC) who moderated presenters in Wels as well as long-distance speakers Afonso Bertucci, Braspell Bioenergia, and Ken’ichiro Kojima, Pellet Club Japan, from their respective locations in Brazil and Japan.

It worked out just fine. In the latter, Ken’ichiro Kojima illustrated the order of magnitude difference between the Japanese residential pellet market supplied by domestic producers, and the power utility sec-tor supplied by imported pellets.

In the former, some 137 producers produced a combined total of approximately 150 000 tonnes in 2020, and preliminary figures suggest the same for 2021.

Pellet imports over the same period for dedicated biomass power plants and coal co-firing increased by 1 million tonnes, from just over 2 million in 2020 to more than 3 million in 2021.

Current forecasts peg the biomass fuel demand to reach as much as 30 million tonnes by 2030, the lion’s share of which is likely to be imported pellets.

In his presentation, Martin Bentele, CEO of Deutscher Energieholz- und Pellet-Verband (DEPV) highlighted that Germany, the EU’s largest pellet-producing Member State, is edging close to 4 million tonnes of installed production capacity, double what was produced in 2016.

Pellet heating installations consumed 2.9 million tonnes in 2021, and the mid-term trajectory suggests that consumption could reach 4.3 million tonnes by 2025, and almost 7 million tonnes by 2030, provided that current stove and boiler sales year-on-year growth continues.

Commenting on German feedstock availability, Bentele pointed out that the German sawmill industry generates around 6.5 million tonnes of sawdust annually, while roughly another 17 million tonnes of un-merchantable roundwood per annum is also available.

The current geopolitical situation in Europe has amplified the existing cost-benefit advantage and price stability in Germany for pellets, despite a price increase to just over 7 cents a kWh in January 2022.

Fossil gas on the other hand has climbed steadily to over 12 ct/kWh in March 2022, while heating oil has bolted to almost 16 ct/kWh in the same period.

Pellet imports represent just over 12 percent primarily from neighboring countries – Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine supplied just over 90 000 tonnes in 2021.

Recounting from one of the neighbouring countries, Dr Christian Rakos, proPellets Austria gave a background to the Austrian pellet industry’s impending capacity expansion – 800 000 tonnes within the next three years with Sturm Pellets in Wels a case in point.

March 1-3, 2023, is the date for the next edition of the European Pellet Conference/WSED in Wels, no doubt with a significant share of the Austrian 800 000 capacity increase operational.

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