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Pellets – two decades as a global industry

Today marks twenty years since the world's first ever trans-ocean shipment of wood pellets reached its destination – a cargo from a wood pellet producer on one continent arrived at its energy utility client's docks on another continent and began unloading on April 6, 1998.

The Öresundskraft combined heat and power (CHP) plant at the Port of Helsingborg, Sweden. The A-frame shed by the waterfront holds around 15 000 tonnes of pellets.

More specifically, a 15 000 tonne cargo from Canadian pellet producer Pacific BioEnergy was shipped out of British Columbia (BC) on the “Mandarin Moon”. The vessel is said to have arrived at the Swedish municipal energy utility Öresundskraft’s combined heat and power (CHP) facilities in the Port of Helsingborg, Sweden on April 6, 1998.

The rest is, as they say, history – pellets are shipped by the bigger boatload, from North America to Europe and to South East Asia. Moreover, utilities have own pellet production plants, some pellet producers have gone big and bust, others have gone bigger and public. Finally, to come full circle as it were, Graanul Invest became historic earlier this year by becoming the first pellet producer to acquire a boat for its own pellet shipping purposes.

The story about the pioneering deal is best told by the man behind the deal –ideally accompanied by a refreshment of some sort as the long version is much more entertaining and thought-provoking. However, it proved that pellets could be transported across oceans giving access to other, larger industrial markets thus enabling producers wanting to expand and build bigger plants to do so.

In short, it marked the beginning of the global industrial pellet industry seen today, an industry that has grown in parallel with local and regional pellet producers serving local markets, often seasonal residential heating markets.

John Swaan, a founder of Pacific BioEnergy and now part of the FutureMetrics team, is the person to ask, for instance at an upcoming pellet industry conference ideally after a session on global pellet markets and trade flows. Bear in mind that there probably wouldn’t have been any pellet trade conference to go to let alone a global pellet industry like there is today hadn’t that milestone event twenty years ago taken place.

John Swaan, here seen sharing his experience and expertise at a pellet conference in Sweden, is widely recognized as one of the leading experts in the wood pellet sector. In 1994, he founded Pacific BioEnergy Corporation in Prince George, British Columbia, that has become one of Canada’s leading wood pellet exporters. He was instrumental in establishing the Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC) in 1996 and served as its executive director from 2005-2009. He manufactured and loaded the first-ever transatlantic shipment of pellets from North America to Sweden.

And as by the way, Pacific BioEnergy still produce pellets although one may suspect with Sumitomo Corporation’s stake in the company that most of the production ends up being shipped westwards across the Pacific to the Far East. Öresundetskraft still uses and import pellets although shipments tend to come from across the Baltic Sea rather than the Atlantic ocean.

One wonders what milestone pellet industry happenings the coming decade has in store –pellets railed from Europe to China via a Silk (rail)road express?

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