YuLong News

Where Do All the Wood Pellets Go?

       Europe is usually the last place on one's mind when riding through miles of surprisingly desolate pine forests, stretching from the Alabama line to Georgia's marshy coast. But, in an unlikely convergence of European eco-policy and Southeastern pines, a Georgia wood pellet plant is now supplying a German-based utility with a steady stream of carbon-neutral energy.

      For over a year now, Georgia Biomass, L.L.C., a wholly owned subsidiary of RWE Innogy, Inc., has overseen the production of 750,000 metric tons of wood pellets per year.  After a 100-mile rail trip from its Waycross, Ga. plant to the port of Savannah, the pellets are received as cargo bound for Europe where they are co-fired in coal-burning plants.

     If not for the largesse of European utilities required to meet government carbon emissions standards for their coal-burning plants, however, the U.S. pellet export industry would arguably not exist.  Such emission standards have yet to reach the federal level here in the U.S. 

     Even so, pellet exports from the U.S. to Europe currently average over 2 million metric tons per year, which converts to about 450 MWs of electrical capacity solely from combusted pellets.  But that's still a tiny fraction of Europe's energy needs — thus, there's room for growth as a number of coal-fired power plants switch from coal to pellets.  By 2020, Europe may annually import as much as 40 million metric tons of pellets from all sources, up from today's 3.5 million metric tons of total pellet imports, says bio-energy consultant William Strauss.
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