As an industry, wood pellet production continues to grow year after year. In fact, according to a United Nations report, global wood pellet production increased by 12% in 2013 alone, and experts estimate that the wood pellet trade could lead to international revenues of $11.5 billion in just four years.
But the biomass industry is more than just a profitable one. If you’ve been a part of this growing trend and have followed our blog for a while, you know that countries across the globe, especially in Europe, increasingly rely on American wood chips to power their electrical plants, decrease harmful carbon emissions, and meet their energy goals.
But where does all this wood come from? Here, we’ll discuss some of the main sources of wood-pellet wood in the United States and how different companies fight to ensure that wood remains a sustainable energy source for generations to come.
America’s Rich Forests
Centuries ago, many parts of America were covered in thick, luscious forests. The percentage of American land that was completely covered in trees decreased with industrialization, but according to reports from NASA, approximately one-third of America is still filled with forests.
Although around 33% of the world is still forested, areas like Europe have a very limited amount of wood resources. For instance, Great Britain is a relatively small island that has been industrialized for centuries. Compared the US, which was still expanding to the West and South as industrialization occurred in Europe, they have very few ways to access sustainable forests for fuel sources.
In contrast, America is still heavily forested. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’ve undoubtedly visited some of the most famously forested areas in the United States, like the mountain ranges of the Pacific Northwest or the beautiful blue hills of the Appalachian Trail.
Unlike fossil fuels, trees aren’t necessarily a limited resource-they can, and should, be replanted. They also burn cleaner than coal does. They’re easy to harvest and, thanks to sturdy rotary dryers, easy to transform into easy-to-use wood pellets. Because of America’s wood, Americans and Europeans alike can benefit from a cleaner, more sustainable fuel source than fossil fuels.
The South’s High-Quality Trees
You might think that most of the biofuel’s wood pellets come from heavily forested areas like the Pacific Northwest. Actually (as you know if you’ve read some of our other blogs), the vast majority of biofuel companies source their trees from the American South, especially states like Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina.
In particular, many biomass companies use wood from southern yellow pines, which aren’t a specific type of tree but rather a designation for a group of similar trees. According to one study, since worldwide use of paper products in favor of electronic ones has decreased, the South currently has a surplus of southern yellow pines, which makes them a perfect choice for conversion to fuel.
Other wood pellets are made from wood biomass waste, or the low-quality remnants of harvested or dying trees that can’t be used for furniture but can be used for fuel. The waste is dried, compacted into a pellet and burned.
Preserving the South’s Forests
Some environmentalists have worried that using the South’s timber might contribute to environmental degradation over time. However, several entities, including the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities, the US Industrial Pellet Association, and the National Alliance of Forest Owners, banded together to study the issue and ensure the pellet industry wouldn’t negatively impact the area.
The study the group commissioned found that the wood pellet industry’s goal to export sustainable wood to the European Union and Great Britain isn’t destroying the South’s woods. Instead, the study found that biomass companies are only removing a small percentage of the South’s timber-only around 3.3% of the area’s forests.
The biomass industry’s investment in trees naturally leads to sustainably. Since biomass companies want their clients to always have a ready source of fuel, they invest heavily in replanting harvested trees and ensuring the areas they use for timber remain clean and healthy.
Unfortunately, coal and oil exportation remains high, and mining for these two fuel sources, especially in the South, often does more environmental damage than harvesting wood for pellets does. Hopefully, as more companies transition to biomass fuel sources, the world will work towards a cleaner future with a more sustainable fuel source.
Invest in America’s Forests
An investment in wood pellets means a commitment to making sure America’s vastly forested lands stay that way. If you currently rely on rotary dryers to produce wood pellets, talk to our company about how to maintain your rotary dryer and make it as efficient and effective as possible. And if you’re thinking of transitioning to this energy source, get in touch with our company to learn how we can help.
Simply want to learn more about the biomass industry? Browse our other blogs to get a feel for the industry’s goals, commitments, and recent innovations.