By Gordon Murray
June 12, 2017 - The global annual wood pellet trade is currently about 30 million tonnes and growing at about 15 per cent per year. About half of all wood pellets are sold in the industrial sector for power generation while the other half are sold in the heating sector for residential, commercial and institutional applications.
By Gordon Murray
This is the first of two articles about wood pellet certification. In the industrial sector, pellet producers are concerned about sustainability certification. This is to demonstrate to our customers, and ultimately to governments, that pellets produced for power are produced sustainably. In the heating sector, quality certification is growing in importance as means of providing third party assurance to consumers that the pellets they are purchasing will provide optimal performance in stoves and boilers. This article is about wood pellet quality certification.
What is wood pellet quality certification? It is the provision by an independent third party – a certification body – that wood pellets bearing the certification trademark conform to specific quality standards. Quality certification is not needed in the industrial pellet sector because buyers and sellers routinely conduct laboratory tests of samples taken from each pellet shipment. In the heating sector, it would obviously be impractical to expect consumers to conduct their own laboratory tests. This is the reason that third-party quality certification was developed for the heating sector.
The Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC) manages two pellet quality certification programs: ENplus and CANplus. ENplus certification began in 2010 and now accounts for about 80 per cent of pellets sold in the European heating sector. The European Pellet Council (EPC) governs the ENplus program and issues licenses to national pellet associations that manage the program in their own countries. WPAC is an EPC member and is the ENplus national licenser for Canada. CANplus certification is essentially identical to ENplus, with the only difference being that CANplus is governed in Canada by WPAC. Since CANplus is Canada’s national pellet quality certification program, it must be governed in Canada and not in Europe.
Quality certification benefits wood pellet producers in two ways:
- Certification protects producers from bad actors in the market. By advocating that consumers use only certified pellets, it ensures that the pellets will perform properly in stoves and boilers and thus protect the reputation of wood pellets as a good quality fuel.
- Certification provides market access. With ENplus certified pellets making up 80 per cent of the European heat sector, buyers are now insisting that imported pellets be ENplus certified. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that all new pellet stove warrantees must specify the use of certified pellets. Three certifications are accepted: PFI (managed by the U.S. Pellet Fuels Institute), ENplus, and CANplus. In Canada, some provincial governments – notably Ontario – have developed, or are developing new rules for wood heating requiring the use of CANplus certified wood pellets in pellet boilers.
There are three kinds of service providers involved in the certification process: inspection bodies, testing bodies, and certification bodies. The role of an inspection body is to inspect the pellet plant, trader, or service provider, to take pellet samples, to inspect the production process and raw materials, to ensure that proper documentation is in place, and to prepare a report for submission to a certification body. The role of a testing body (a.k.a. laboratory) is to analyze pellet samples to ensure that they meet required standards. The role of a certification body is to review the evidence provided by inspection and testing bodies so as to make a determination regarding certification. To be listed, all three bodies must hold appropriate ISO certifications as set out in the ENplus/CANplus handbooks and must submit an application for joint approval by the European Pellet Council and WPAC.
Control Union Canada Inc. administers the ENplus and CANplus certification programs in Canada on behalf of WPAC. WPAC has also appointed Control Union as the certification body for both programs. Program applicants are free to choose their own inspection and testing bodies. Anyone who qualifies for ENplus will also automatically qualify for CANplus at the same time and is eligible to use both quality seals.
The rules and procedures for ENplus/CANplus are set out in the program handbooks which can be freely downloaded by going to WPAC’s website at www.pellet.org and clicking on the CANplus tab in the top right corner. The handbooks set out the specifications for the A1, A2, and B quality classes. The ENplus/CANplus pellet specifications were originally based on European pellet standards, but since 2014, have been based on standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization, namely ISO 17225 Part 2, Graded wood pellets.
The procedure for a pellet producer to obtain ENplus/CANplus certification is straightforward. An applicant first visits the WPAC website to download an application form. The applicant must choose a listed inspection body for a site inspection, and may select a listed testing body for pellet analysis or may choose to include the laboratory services in the inspection contract. The pellet producer then sends the application to WPAC.
The next step is for the inspection body to conduct a site inspection, and then send a report to Control Union to be evaluated for certification. The applicant must also submit its desired bag design for approval by WPAC.
Certified pellet producers are required to instruct a listed inspection body to conduct an annual on-site inspection within plus or minus three months of the end of each year following the date of certification. Inspections must include:
- Taking pellets samples for analysis by a listed testing body;
- Examining operating equipment;
- Checking the quality management system, including documentation of operating procedures, quality policy and personnel qualifications;
- Verifying the origin of raw materials;
- Checking the greenhouse gas calculation;
- Reviewing the complaint management system;
- Verifying the fulfillment of reporting obligations to WPAC;
- Validating the self-inspections;
- Verifying production and sales figures; and
- Ensuring that only approved bag designs are being used.
Additionally, WPAC has the right to demand extraordinary inspections if it becomes concerned about consumer complaints regarding a certified producer.
There are also separate procedures for pellet traders and service providers to obtain ENplus/CANplus certification.
Each certified pellet producer is required to have a quality control manual documenting operating instructions, training records, and procedures for the handling of claims and complaints. There must be a designated quality manager who understands how operating processes affect pellet quality, and who has sufficient authority to implement measures to meet the requirements for quality control and internal quality management documentation. The quality manager must participate in an external training course on pellet quality at least once a year. The quality manager must also ensure orderly documentation and evaluation of operating processes that affect wood pellet quality, and carry out annual quality training with all employees.
Each certified producer is required to carry out regular self-monitoring of bulk density, moisture content, mechanical durability, pellet length, and fines content.
There is a requirement for a complaints management system, including appointing a designated complaints manager – preferably the same person that serves as the quality manager. The complaints manager is responsible for registration, processing, documentation and monitoring of customer complaints including corrective and preventative actions, if necessary.
The ENplus quality certification program has been extraordinarily successful. Starting from zero in 2010, it has grown to more than six million tonnes of annual production in Europe and has become essential for North American companies wishing to export into the European pellet heat sector. There have been remarkably few consumer complaints regarding pellet quality. One of the negative by-products of success has been that many unscrupulous uncertified producers have tried to use the ENplus quality seal. This has resulted in the European Pellet Council having to devote substantial resources toward fraud management.
In Canada, pellet producers have been slow to embrace ENplus/CANplus quality certification. This is mainly because most Canadian wood pellets are exported to the European industrial sector for power generation where quality certification is not used. However, as we continue to grow the Canadian and United States heating sectors, and strive to grow our share of the European heating sector, especially in Italy, it will become essential for Canadian pellet producers to embrace ENplus/CANplus quality certification. •
This is Part 1 of a two-part series on wood pellet certifications. Read Part 2 here, on sustainability certifications.
Gordon Murray is the executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada.