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Nordic Pellets ahoy

Nordic Pellets ahoy
Nordic Pellets 2023 takes place February 1-2, 2023 in Gothenburg, Sweden (photo courtesy Svebio).

This week sees the start of the second international biomass pellet event of 2023, the much-anticipated Nordic Pellets annual conference that this year will take place in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Forty years have passed since the Fuel Pellet seminar in Sweden. Held in 1982, it was perhaps the first international event ever dedicated to biomass pellets for energy use. It is also two decades since the First World Conference on Pellets (Pellets 2002) was held, also in Sweden (Stockholm), incidentally the first dedicated pellet event attended by the undersigned.

According to Dr Johan Vinterbäck, who at the time was the conference coordinator at the Swedish Bioenergy Association (Svebio), the reason for the conference was that the “large-scale implementation of wood pellets as a solid biomass fuel represents a change in the energy system that will have both economic and environmental consequences. The aim (of the conference) was to bring together people to create a network where industry, research, other expertise, and decision-makers meet to build a strong pellet industry for the future. The sum of the economic, technological, and environmental evidence presented at this conference weighs very heavily in favor of the pellet option.”

Much wood fibre has passed through pellet presses around the world since 2002 building arguably a strong global wood pellet industry. Indeed, so much so that the industry finds itself along with the entire forest sector in the crosshairs of a coalition of anti-biomass and anti-combustion cohorts. Yet the rationale for that event and its outcome remains true today – as evidenced by the recently held inaugural European Pellet Forum (EPF) in Graz, Austria earlier this month.

So what characterizes the Nordic Pellets conference? In terms of pellet production, the Nordics have a particular zest for energy efficiency, and given the current high- and volatile cost energy climate, no doubt a hot discussion point along with fibre availability – the vast majority if not all Nordic pellet plants use sawmill residuals. As such they are dependent on sawmill production and lumber markets.

And, as it should be at every pellet conference that discusses technology, a session on the latest developments within operational health and safety along the value chain.

The Nordic pellet markets are a mix of residential- and commercial space heating, district heating, and industrial thermal applications – homes, businesses, public buildings, heat plants, laundries, asphalt producers, and meat-processing plants to mention a few. Applications where fossil-derived space- and/or process heat can be replaced using pellets.

Denmark’s Ørsted is perhaps the exception by having utility-scale pellet consumption for heat and power though, in Sweden, Stockholm Exergi’s Hässelbyverket could also be classed as such having replaced coal with pellets as well as perhaps Finland’s Helen’s Salmisaari and Patola pellet-fired heat plants.

Emerging markets are the hard-to-abate sectors such as cement and iron and steel or where pellets become a feedstock as part of the process such as chemicals and advanced biofuels.

As it happens, in terms of the latter Gothenburg is an unwittingly symbolic choice of the conference location. Originally Gothenburg was chosen by the organizers with a pre-conference visit to Göteborg Energi’s new large-scale pellet-fired hot water boiler in mind. Unfortunately, this subsequently fell through as a conference site visit since it is still a commissioning work in progress.

Instead, the symbolism lies in the progress being made by the Port of Gothenburg and its alternative marine fuel bunkering capabilities at the Port – together with partners Canada-headed Methanex Corporation, ES Tankers, and Stena Line, it just completed the world’s first non-tanker vessel ship-to-ship methanol bunkering.

The bunkered vessel was the RoRo ferry Stena Germanica, which is the world’s first methanol-powered commercial vessel, operating on methanol since 2015. Gothenburg is also home to Swedish Power-to-X project developer Liquid Wind AB that together with Umeå Energi AB recently revealed the location of its third planned eFuel facility in Sweden to produce renewable synthetic methanol for shipping.

And as 2023 marks the 25th anniversary of the pioneering transatlantic shipment of wood pellets, from Canada to Sweden the story of which will be told by none other than John Swaan himself, it seems only fitting that collaborating Canadian-Swedish companies are the fore of driving down fossil carbon emissions from shipping, in this case using (renewable) methanol.

The next milestone may well be a pellet producer shipping pellets on a vessel powered by renewable synthetic methanol derived from carbon dioxide captured from the flue stack of the pellet plant itself or at an industrial-utility end-user – Pellets 3.0.

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