Canadian Biomass Magazine

Making progress on solid biofuel standards

May 27, 2016
By Andrew Macklin

May 27, 2016 - Development of international standards for solid biofuels started formally in 2008 under the ISO Technical Committee 238 (ISO/TC238) based partly on work done by the European Union’s Central European Committee for Normalization (CEN) and partly based on other standards from around the world.

To date a total of 23 standards have been published and an additional 20 projects are in various stages of development. The published standards include seven documents for classification of biomass and graded biofuels, including woody pellets and briquettes, non-woody pellets and briquettes, firewood and chips. In addition, there are 16 standards for testing physical and mechanical properties and seven standards for testing chemical properties of solid biofuels. There are also ISO standards being developed for sampling and sample preparation, including a standard for small-scale sampling. These international standards will ensure a level-playing field among stakeholders, and will help eliminate unfair competition in the market place.  

ISO Technical Committee 238 met April 24-29, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to advance the development of new standards and ongoing projects, including several projects focused on safety. The safety projects include residential handling and storage of wood pellets; a standard for large-scale handling and storage in industrial applications; and guidelines for fighting fires, and for avoiding the risk of asphyxiation due to oxygen depletion, in pellet storage facilities. When approved and published, these standards may be used within Europe, North America and other parts of the world.

The interest for thermally-treated and densified biofuels, produced by torrefaction, steam explosion or hydrothermal carbonization, is increasing and a standard has been proposed through ISO TC 238 Working Group 2, Fuel specifications and classes. However, in the Kuala Lumpur meeting it was acknowledged that a standard should not be pursued at this time due to the fact that these technologies are still in the research and technical development stage, and no large commercial operations are in place yet. It was therefore agreed that the development of this standard should be deferred to a technical specification instead, until these technologies are   developed further and validated for commercial use, and the material is better understood, prior to publication of an international standard for these types of solid biofuels.

Additional new standards are under development for determination of ash melting temperature, absorptivity and grindability of thermally-treated biofuels as well as for calibration of optical analyzers for determination of particle size distribution. In all it is fully expected that there will be over 50 standards published by ISO/TC238 for solid biofuels.


Parallel to the ongoing work of ISO/TC238 a new ISO Technical Committee, ISO/TC300, has just been created to develop standards for solid recovered biofuels. Similar to the initial plans for ISO/TC 238, the new ISO Technical Committee plans to pursue quality and test specifications for biofuels made from demolition wood, municipal waste and other lower grade materials. Liaisons have been put into place to keep the lines of communications open between the two committees. Canada is currently evaluating the potential benefits of participating in ISO/TC300. At this time, there are no known plans for the U.S. to actively participate in this new area of standardization.

The U.S. and Canadian delegations have, in close cooperation, looked after the interest of the producers and users of solid biofuels in North America. Active participation in the development of ISO standards is important to protect North American interests, and to secure fair trade with Europe and other markets around the world.

Attending the meeting from Canada was Staffan Melin (Chair, from Wood Pellet Association of Canada); Maurice Douek (Co-Chair, from FPInnovations); and Babak Owlam (from CSA (Canadian Standards Association)).

There are currently 38 countries actively following this work. When the technical committee was formed, the attendees and participation was from Europe and North America, but we are now seeing participation from around the globe. In the Kuala Lumpur meeting 14 nations participated, including China for the first time.

For further information, please contact Staffan Melin ( or Maurice Douek (

Additional details on ISO/TC238 can be found at:

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