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Demand in the industrial sector reached some 13.8 million tonnes in 2016.84 A similar quantity (around 14 million tonnes) of pellets went to heating markets (individual houses and district heating), notably in Italy, Germany and Sweden.85 The wood pellet heating market has grown steadily at a rate of nearly 1 million tonnes per year over a 10-year period.86The United States is the largest exporter of wood pellets.
In 2016, US manufacturers produced approximately 6.9 million tonnes of wood pellets and exported 4.8 million tonnes.87 During the first half of 2016, 85% of exported pellets were sold to the UK Drax plant.88 Canadian exports also rose 47% in 2016 to 2.5 million tonnes.89 Latvia, Europe’s largest producer, exported 1.9 million tonnes mainly to Denmark and the United Kingdom, as well as to Sweden and Italy.90Along with some large-scale plants designed to provide supply chain security to particular users (such as Drax), the pellet industry mostly comprises independent producers and is based around sawmill operations.91 For example, 142 pellet plants are operational in the United States and 58 in Canada.92 However, there are signs of industry consolidation.
It also can be used at a larger scale to provide heat for institutional and commercial premises and in industry, where it can provide either low-temperature heat for heating and drying applications or high-temperature process heat.
The heat also can be co-generated with electricity via combined heat and power (CHP) systems, and distributed from larger production facilities by district energy systems to provide heating (and in some cases cooling) to residential, commercial and industrial customers.
There are many pathways by which biomass feedstocks can be converted into useful renewable energy.
A broad range of wastes, residues and crops grown for energy purposes can be used directly as fuels for heating and cooling or for electricity production, or they can be converted into gaseous or liquid fuels for transport or as replacements for petrochemicals.1 (See Figure 6 in GSR 2015.) Many bioenergy technologies and conversion processes are now well-established and fully commercial.2 A further set of conversion processes – in particular for the production of advanced liquid fuels – is maturing rapidly.3In 2016, local and global environmental concerns, rising energy demand and energy security continued to drive increasing production and use of bioenergy.
Solid biomass is burned directly using traditional stoves and more modern appliances to provide heat for cooking and for space and water heating in the residential sector.In the EU, for example, Graanul (Estonia) was the largest producer in 2016, with 11 pellet plants across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.93The sustainability of bioenergy, and particularly of the large-scale use of pellets derived from wood, continues to be a controversial issue.94 The European Commission, in its proposals for a new Renewable Energy Directive launched in November 2016, stated its intent to reinforce mandatory sustainability criteria for bioenergy by extending the scope to cover solid biomass and biogas for heating and cooling and electricity generation.95 As of 2016, such mandatory criteria applied only to biofuels, although member states can introduce criteria for the heat and electricity sectors, as the United Kingdom and Denmark have done.96The torrefaction of wood enables the production of pellets with a higher energy density and results in a product compatible with systems designed for coal.