Last week the Swedish Bioenergy Association (Svebio) in partnership with the Swedish Pellet Association (PelletsFörbundet) hosted its annual Nordic Pellets conference in Varberg, Sweden. This year's edition, the twenty-something for the event, marked the first time it was held in English in its entirety – a reflection of the global influence even in a domestic market context. Supply, demand, and safety.
This year’s edition held at the Varberg Kusthotell also saw the support from the world’s largest pellet producer Enviva Holdings Inc., Scandinavia’s largest pellet producer Scandbio AB and Sweden’s largest forest owners association, Södra. The latter kicked-off the event by hosting a record number of delegates – 70 pax – to its sawmill and wood pellet plant at its forest industry complex in Värö, a 30-minute bus ride from the venue.
The same day, Södra’s second pellet plant at its Långasjö sawmill produced the first commercial pellets from a new line. Incidentally, Södra’s Värö complex supplies a significant share of heat to Varberg’s district heating network as Björn Sjöström, Varberg Energi explained.
The former partner, Enviva, represented a first time partnership with the organisers, which no doubt may have surprised some of the 130 or so delegates given that Enviva has no direct market in Sweden. Yet one should add. Given the tight market conditions for producers in the Nordics – a hangover from last year – the question was asked during a market panel discussion if Enviva could see itself supplying into the market soon.
Discussing sustainability, market outlook and opportunities, Justin Tait, Enviva, explained that current production capacity was in principle already spoken for in off-take agreements with other European and Asian power utilities – its business model is based on building pellet plants on the back of securing long off-take agreements. Furthermore, Enviva’s industrial-grade pellets may not be suitable for residential heat and process industry applications that require a different quality.
Anyway, as Tait pointed out, the shipping times involved would not alleviate any immediate demands – instead, balancing the troughs and peaks of market supply and demand is, in essence, the core service provided by traders. That said the company is open to discussing the possibility of supplying future demand – Germany is perhaps a case in point now that the coal exit commission has put forth its staggered coal phase-out proposal.
Safety and standards were other key topics addressed, the former a subject that Gordon Murray, Executive Director, Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC) opened in no uncertain terms. He provided background into how the Canadian wood pellet industry faced “shape up or be shut-down” following a series of fatal incidents at sawmills that made prime time TV news for all the wrong reasons.
However, from a Swedish perspective, while much research into phenomena such as silo-fires, self-heating, off-gassing, and deflagration has and is being done generating new knowledge and standards, as both Anders Lönnermark, Research Institutes of Sweden – RISE and Niklas Jungerth, Swedish Standards Institute (SIS) presented on, there have been several fire-related incidents at pellet plants over the past 18 months. In short, there is no room for complacency when it comes to combustible dust.
This suggests that knowledge in itself is not enough to effectuate a behavioral change. Indeed said Swedish researchers or their colleagues are instead finding themselves being invited as speakers in Canada at pellet safety events and workshops organised by WPAC.
To paraphrase Murray, it is not enough to demonstrate that the wood pellet industry, a renewable fuel producer, is sustainable, it also needs to earn and develop a reputation of being safe too.