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Study confirms BC wood pellets responsibly sourced

Study confirms BC wood pellets responsibly sourced
Pinnacle (now Drax North America) railcars with pellets at the Fiberco terminal in the Port of Vancouver, Canada.

A new study confirms that wood pellets in British Columbia (BC), Canada are sourced entirely from sawmill and harvest residuals or from low-quality logs and bush grind rejected by other industries.

Commissioned by the Wood Pellet Association of Canada, the study “Wood pellets in BC – Woody Biomass Used in the Industry” was carried out by respected forest experts and Registered Professional Foresters (RPF), Professor Dr Gary Bull, Dr Jeremy Williams, Dr Jim Thrower, and Brad Bennett analyzed government and industry databases, confidential commercial data, and audit reports and conducted personal interviews with individual pellet plant operators and local communities.

We reviewed the data for virtually every truckload of fibre for each pellet mill in the province and were able to source forest-based residuals down to the forest harvesting block for each mill. The findings were clear: 85 percent of the fibre for pellets comes from the by-products of the sawmills and allied industries, and the remaining 15 percent comes from bush grind and low-quality logs where the only other option is to burn the low-grade logs and brush piles on site in order to reduce fire risk, said Professor Bull.

In addition, almost all the pellets produced in British Columbia are certified under the internationally recognized Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP) and the fibre is from sustainably managed forests in BC, certified in accordance with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

The notion of harvesting whole stands of timber or displacing higher value forest products for the purpose of producing wood pellets is counter to the overall economic and environmental objectives of using wood pellets, added Dr Jim Thrower.

The study also concludes the BC pellet sector:

  • Utilizes and creates value from the mill residuals;
  • Works with Indigenous and other communities to improve forest health, support local economies, and strengthen community resiliency;
  • Creates an additional revenue stream for sawmills and other facilities;
  • Eliminates smoke and particulate matter (PM) emissions associated with beehive burners or landfills;
  • Utilizes low-quality biomass that comes from natural disturbances;
  • Creates viable economic opportunities and employment;
  • Contributes to managing wildfire risks; and
  • Increases the substitution of renewable energy (biomass) for fossil fuel (coal).

Around three-quarters of the world’s renewable energy is from biomass. Bioenergy accounts for about 10 percent of total final energy consumption and two percent of global electricity generation.

Today our sector is taking what was once considered waste and instead is enhancing forest health, creating jobs, and reducing wildfire risk and GHG emissions from slash burning. British Columbia wood pellets are a vital solution in the global fight against climate change by replacing fossil fuels like coal and providing a gateway to the bioeconomy, commented Gordon Murray, Executive Director of WPAC.

Gordon Murray Executive Director Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC).
Gordon Murray, Executive Director, WPAC.

The study also looked at the impact of pellets in both the broader forest sector and in communities like Burns Lake where the pellet plant has played an important role in addressing the mountain pine beetle (MPB) epidemic, providing an outlet for local sawmills and low-quality roundwood and strengthening the local economy.

As a community forest that surrounds much of the community’s recreational playground, if we didn’t practice complete utilization we would hear about it in town from the public, said Frank Varga, General Manager of Burns Lake Community Forest.

The Community Forest is owned by the Village of Burns Lake which equally shares its revenue with the Tsi’lKazKoh and Wet’suwet’en First Nations communities.

Without the Burns Lake Drax facility, we wouldn’t have a home for a significant component of our low-grade harvesting profile, and the level of waste would not be socially acceptable, ended Frank Varga.

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