Canadian Biomass Magazine

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Serving the Pellet Industry

Wood pellet production is a $280 million/year industry in Canada and is continuing to grow as part of our bioeconomy.


April 22, 2010
By Gordon Murray

Wood pellet production is a $280 million/year industry in Canada and is continuing to grow as part of our bioeconomy.  Canada’s annual wood pellet production is about 1.4 million tonnes – roughly 14% of the 10-million-tonne global market.  The global market is predicted to approach 130 million tonnes/year by 2020.  Most Canadian pellets are sold in Europe as a coal substitute for electric power generation. 

Traditionally, Canadian sawmills used beehive burners to dispose of sawdust and other wood waste; they contributed significantly to air pollution.  Canadian regulators tried to outlaw beehive burners, but were unsuccessful because of threatened sawmill closures and job losses.  It took the wood pellet industry to develop a commercial use for sawmill waste and enable widespread shutdown of beehive burners.

Now, many sawmills have closed because of declining lumber prices.  Faced with dwindling sawdust supplies, most pellet producers now source a large portion of feedstock directly from the forest, using logging debris and even whole trees.

The Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC) is the voice of the Canadian wood pellet industry.  Members are Canadian pellet producers, Canadian and international shipping companies, port operators and terminals, pellet customers/traders, industry suppliers, trade organizations, government agencies, and consultants.  A board comprising a representative from each producer member directs association priorities.  WPAC’s purpose is to be a strong industry advocate and to advance scientific and technical knowledge to enhance industry competitiveness.

WPAC began in the late 1990s as the British Columbia Pellet Fuel Manufacturers Association (BCPFMA).  In 2002, a carbon monoxide poisoning accident occurred in Europe on a vessel discharging pellets from Canada, killing one person and seriously injuring others.  BCPFMA members started developing safety instructions for handling pellets in large bulk, including upgrading shipping regulations under the International Maritime Organization.  The complexity of the technical issues and the serious exposure to the industry resulted in the formation of WPAC in January 2006.  WPAC initiated and funded a research project at the University of British Columbia (UBC) to understand off-gassing in wood pellets.  In early 2007, the UBC research released a comprehensive Material Safety Data Sheet that has been used since then.

Safety and research
In addition to off-gassing, large-bulk wood pellets present additional hazards, e.g., dust explosions, fire caused by self-heating, and lung injury.  WPAC and UBC are studying these issues to develop comprehensive safe engineering and operational practices recommendations.  Research is also done within WPAC and with collaborators from overseas research institutes, and other topics include pellet life cycle analysis, international standards for pellets and pellet quality testing, and development of second-generation solid biofuel.

Some of WPAC’s current initiatives include:

  • Educating government about negative effects of pulp and paper subsidies: The pulp and paper industry received $1.5 billion in 2005 and $1 billion in 2009, which gave it a tax-funded advantage over the pellet
  • industry in competing for fibre.  Using tax dollars to prop up the pulp sector harms the wood pellet industry.
  • Advising the Canadian government on a response to the U.S. Biomass Crop Assistance Program: The United States created a $45/ton feedstock subsidy for U.S. pellet producers, giving them an unfair advantage in world markets.  WPAC is advising on a potential response that doesn’t involve a pellet producer subsidy.
  • Facilitating insurance coverage: Frequent fires and dust explosions in pellet plants are causing some refusal of insurance for the pellet industry.  WPAC is developing best practices, audit procedures, and a certification system to reduce accidents and restore insurer confidence.
  • Negotiating with German/Austrian pellet associations: These associations are discussing a new pan-European pellet certification system, which could impede North American access to European residential markets.  WPAC is negotiating with the European associations to ensure that Canadian producers are treated fairly.


Gordon Murray is executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada.  He can be reached at 250-837-8821 or gord@gordonmurray.ca.


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