Wood Pellets as a Source of Fuel

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Wood Pelletsas a Source of Fuel

Wood pellets refer to low-cost, sustainable carbon neutral energysources that are readily available in many parts of the worldespecially new England states (McKechnie et al., 2010).Moreover, like other carbon fuels, wood pellets release emission thatrequires monitoring to determine any environmental or health issuesthat are likely to arise from their usage (McKechnie et al.,2010). Nevertheless, the wood pellets as a source of energy, moreefficient and burns cleaner compared to simple wood log because itcontains a lower level of moisture content.

Wood pellets, however, are hazardous to both environment and humanhealth. This because the produce some toxic gases such as carbondioxide, sulfur oxides, among other potentially toxic gases(McKechnie et al., 2010). This means they must be observed asother differently fueled boilers based on the National Ambient AirQuality Standards. These standards serve as an initiative forchoosing the best boilers, and the suitable area to locate it toavoid production of high particulate matter, which are threat to bothhuman health and our environment.

In the United State, the wood pellets industry is compellingindustry dependable for feeding energy booms, which many people,remains unaware. Moreover, Europeans countries have been looking toinnovate and decrease their level of the carbon footprints. This isresponsible for the high demand for the wood pellets across theEurope making wood pellets an interesting topic. The controversialover the economic benefits and sustainability of wood fuel alsocontributed to the need for this topic.

History of wood pellets

Fig.1 Image of wood pellets

The Production of the wood pellets in North America and Europe beganduring the oil crisis 1973 and 1979 (De Jong et al., 2013). Moreover, the technology itself was adopted from technology offish/feed pellet, which was widely used in Europe and North America.Use of wood fuel attracted the attention of many people due to itshigh capacity, and it was seen an alternative source of energy foroil (Zhang, et al., 2009). The effort to get an alternativeenergy source from renewable energy source with many qualityimprovements of raw materials saw the discovery of wood pellet as thesolution at that time. However, after the recovery of the oil price,the wood pellets price rose significantly resulting hence decliningin its uses. The production of wood pellets has been low since then.

However, as results of problems of climate change, global warmingand need to increased value added of woody biomass together with therapid decline of fossil fuels during 1990 giving wood pellet asignificant attention (DeJong et al., 2013). In an example,wood pellets replaced electric heating and kerosene. Althoughgovernment does not seem to encourage the use of wood pellets, itsmarket is rapidly growing due to its price advantage and green image.Furthermore, the wood pellets are clearly seen in the world trademarket (Magelli et al., 2009).

Presently, the wood pellets are a fierce price competitor of naturalgas and kerosene in many countries. Due to advantages of wood pelletssuch as high quality, easiness to use, and environmental concern, itsuse has steadily increased over the years. The woody biomass isparticularly known to be an alternative energy source, which can berenewed especially when used in a sustainable manner. For many years,forestry and energy crop have been grown to attempt sustainproduction of wood fuel (McKechnie et al., 2010). Theutilization of wood wastes from industrial timber is traced from alegal source. The best wood pellets have been produced from thesawdust raw materials. Wood pellets of best quality have highcalorific and value lowest ash content. In general, such wood pelletshave been used for heating homes in the U.S, Canada and Europeancountries.

In Japan, the wood pellets were introduced after the North Americaand Europe oil crisis. In 1982, the wood pellets were first used forindustrial purpose (Deaner et al., 2015). Furthermore, theoutput of its production has increased constantly. In total about 30plants, which can produce up to 27,722tons of wood pellets at peakhave been established (Deaner et al., 2015). However, due tothe fluctuation of oil price, wood pellets lost its advantage priceand as results, it was unable to stay in the public. The burners ofthe pellets are precisely immature, and this could be the reason ithas remained unpopular in Japan.

Burning of wood pellets

In contrast, use of wood fuel has taken roots in the U.S andEuropean where it is used for domestic consumption for heating (ETA,et al., 2004). In Asia, wood pellets are used for generationof in industries. There is a great difference in consumption of woodpellets due to climatic condition together other factors such lack ofenvironmental impact awareness and geographical patterns. Due toenvironmental issues, global warming and climatic changes togetherwith various domestic and industrial applications have caused a highdemand for this commodity.

Fig. 3 The comparison of price of various source of energy inselected countries

Name of the country


Natural gas

Electric power

Wood pellet

yen/kWh *1


























Current harvesting of wood pellets

Regional restrictions

There are no known universal restrictions to wood pellets burning inthe United, but some countries have passed law and regulations foremission of carbon dioxide from areas such as energy production andtransportation. This has made the wood pellets preferred target toassist in the elimination of greenhouse gases. Wood pellets have comeout as a significant advantage due to their carbon neutrality (Deaneret al., 2015).

Currently available for Harvest

New England possesses a vast supply of wood, but not all of it isavailable for harvesting due to the resource is localized in the areawhich machines cannot be placed, this is in the case of wetlands andcliffs (Magelli, et al., 2009). The logging is New England ismostly done in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. The majority of NewEngland’s forests (85% in 1990) are belong to the forest-typegroup: northern hardwood, spruce-fir, white pine, or oak-hickory((Telmo &amp Lousada, 2011). More than 82 species group or treespecies are recorded to be usable in the production of wood pellets.

Grades of Wood

There is a need to determine the grade of a specific piece of lumberduring harvesting from the field, a process known as field grade(ETA, et al., 2004). The grade is determined by the breastheight diameter of the harvested section, the numbers of defectsavailable on the wood surface, and scaling diameter. The harvestedwood then divided into four logs of equal-width section with onesection containing the largest possible numbers of defects to findthe field grade. Some of the expected defects include branches, knotscontaining diameter large than 3/8, decays, bends and stressfractures. Worst faces are ignored during grading.

Challenges presently facing wood pellets

Given the fact, that many people are still aware of the use of woodpellets this mean the precious commodity has not attended globalutilization. It is still used in develop countries which face achronic shortage of forest for harvesting wood logs (Telmo &ampLousada, 2011). There is also a challenge of frequent oil pricefluctuation, and since wood pellets price depends on oil price, ithas to be unable to realize its advantages.

Furthermore, the emission from the wood pellets makes it unpopularand brings a lot of controversial on his usage. Some of theseemissions are discussed in details below,

Sulfur Oxides is among the polluting substance especially fromboilers and consists mostly of sulfur dioxide, and some amounts ofsulfate compounds or sulfur trioxide (Deaner et al., 2015).These pollutants are known to produce sulfuric acid when they reactwith water vapor. This means the production of wood fuel in largemass is among the greatest contributor to toxic compounds in thesnow, fog and rain. This results in harmful effects on bothenvironment and human health (Johansson, et al., 2004). Thishas brought controversy, as some people claim introduction of woodfuel did not adequately solve the greenhouse.

Moreover, production of particulate matters has remained achallenge. Burning wood pellets produce both filterable and condenseparticular matters (Svedberg et al., 2004). The secondaryparticulate matters consist of gaseous matter condensed afterdischarge while the filterable consists of directly emittedmaterials. These need to need to be cleaned before the releasingmeaning the cost of production is too high and not reflected in theprice of wood pellets. Other compounds, which are emitted such ascarbons, nitrates, oxides and sulfates, are harmful to both theenvironment and human health. This means the wood pellets is not verydistinct from other carbons.

Nitrogen oxides are also emitted from during the production of woodpellets (Svedberg et al., 2004). Oxides of nitrogen arethreats to the atmosphere since they react with other pollutants suchas ozone and deplete it. The reaction also results in the productionof smog, which has advanced effects on human health.

Opportunities for Sustainability

Wood production industry has raised concern about institutinglarge-scale energy production using wood as the wood remains anessential manufacturing and construction industries and depletionwill hurt them (Zhang, et al., 2009).

The ability of wood pellets to provide Carbon Neutrality, to burncleaner than other fossil fuel makes give it an advantage overothers. It has been noted that using the pellet reduces the amount ofcarbon emitted by about 50 times compared to oil furnace. This makespellets more efficient than others (Johansson et al., 2004)do. Being effective than others means it stands a better chance ofdevelopment compared to others. Furthermore, most of the green gasesproduced by burning of pellets can be reduced. This can be donethrough making boilers burn more effective. Locating the boilers ata higher level significantly reduces the effects of pellets on thehealth of human beings. Complete combustion of boilers will alsoreduce significantly the amount of pollutants produced.

The current issues such as climate change, global warming and theneed for green energy provide the opportunity for advancement ofpellets production. Wood pellets remain the most effective carbonfuel, and that provides a better opportunity for its advancement.Lastly, it is a renewable source of energy and world is shifting torenewable energy.

Fig.3 effective production of pellets


Wood pellets are cheap and environmentally friendly. This means thatit is a better to the source of power than other carbon fuels. Italso serves as low cost and sustainable energy source this does notmean the energy is free of any environmental pollution, which iscausing many controversies. Use of wood pellets has help to mitigatethe issue of climate change and regulated effects of global warming.Lastly, it is essential to raise awareness on the important of usingwood fuel to enable wide usage of the commodity.


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ETA, M. P.B., Dolzan, P., ETA, A. G., LUT, J. H., UU, M. J., LUT, T. R., &ampWalter, A. (2007). Global wood pellets markets and industry: policydrivers, market status and raw material potential.

Johansson, L.S., Leckner, B., Gustavsson, L., Cooper, D., Tullin, C., &ampPotter, A. (2004). Emission characteristics of modern and old-typeresidential boilers fired with wood logs and woodpellets.&nbspAtmosphericenvironment,&nbsp38(25),4183-4195.

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McKechnie,J., Colombo, S., Chen, J., Mabee, W., &amp MacLean, H. L. (2010).Forest bioenergy or forest carbon? Assessing trade-offs ingreenhouse gas mitigation with wood-based fuels.&nbspEnvironmentalscience &amp technology,&nbsp45(2),789-795.

Svedberg, U.R., Högberg, H. E., Högberg, J., &amp Galle, B. O. (2004).Emission of hexanal and carbon monoxide from storage of woodpellets, a potential occupational and domestic health hazard.&nbspAnnalsof Occupational Hygiene,&nbsp48(4),339-349.

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Zhang, Y.,McKechnie, J., Cormier, D., Lyng, R., Mabee, W., Ogino, A., &ampMaclean, H. L. (2009). Life cycle emissions and cost of producingelectricity from coal, natural gas, and wood pellets in Ontario,Canada. Environmentalscience &amp technology,&nbsp44(1),538-544.