Why take waste by-products from timber manufacturing and refine this into pencil sized pellets with uniform size, shape, moisture content, density and energy content? Why not simply burn the raw wood waste rather than turn it into pellets? There are many good reasons.
When wood pellets are burned, the same amount of carbon dioxide is released as was captured by the tree during its growth phase. So burning pellets does not increase the amount of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. It circulates in a renewable, carbon-neutral cycle. More importantly, Pinnacle uses the waste from sawmilling that would otherwise have been burned simply to get rid of it. So when you heat with Pinnacle wood pellets, you can do so knowing that you saved this wood from simply going up in smoke in the first place. The heat produced now serves a useful purpose and it replaces the need to burn fossil fuels or firewood.
The moisture content of pellets is substantially lower (four per cent to eight per cent water, compared with 20 per cent to 60 per cent for raw biomass). Less moisture means higher BTU value and easier handling, especially in freezing conditions with green biomass.
Arsenic, carbon monoxide, sulphur and carbon dioxide are just a few of the pollutants produced by non-renewable fossil fuels used for heat and energy. Even if the supply of fossil fuel was unlimited, the economic and environmental costs of transporting and burning ever-increasing amounts are simply unsustainable. In fact, since pellets can burn more efficiently (system efficiency averages at 80 per cent) than other fuels, emissions from pellet burners meet even the most stringent Environmental Protection Act requirements.
Pellet fuel density is remarkably higher than that of raw biomass such as wood waste (680 kg per cubic meter versus 160 to 400 kg per cubic meter in raw form). More fuel can be transported in a given truck space, and more energy can be stored at your site.
Pellets are easier to handle. Their uniform shape and size allows for a smaller and simpler feed system, which reduces costs, and makes them easy to store in standard silos, transport in rail cars and deliver in tanker trucks. Pellets pose none of the environmental risks that spillable fossil fuels do. The remarkable consistency and burn efficiency of pellet fuel produces a fraction of the particulate emissions of raw wood waste. Pellet burners have the lowest particulate matter emissions of all solid-fuel burners.
Any remaining ash in the burn chamber can actually be used as fertilizer. A 40-pound bag of pellets burns down to three ounces of ash. And pellet storage poses no soil or water contamination risk. A spill can be cleaned with a shovel — not a hazardous-waste crew.
While some people consider pellet-fuel installations to be an alternative rather than mainstream choice, those systems are virtually identical to conventional oil, coal or gas systems.
Europeans understand the advantages of using pellet fuel. In fact, Europe consumes 84 per cent of the world’s residential fuel pellets. Typical European pellet-fuel systems include a pellet storage container, burner, automated feeder, boiler, exhaust system and chimney. Extensive permits or containment are unnecessary because there is no volatile oil or gas. Storage can be located above or below ground, making maintenance and filling easier and further reducing costs of installation and upkeep.
In North America, more than one million homes, businesses and schools are already using pellet energy. Often, heating systems can be converted or retrofitted to use pellet fuel, rather than having to invest in entirely new equipment. For example, a heating system producing approximately 500,000 BTU/hour (about the size that would service a small school) currently burning oil, coal or natural gas can be retrofitted to burn pellets with some changes made to the burner, the addition of a combustion conveying system and a storage container. The existing boiler and heat delivery structures would remain unchanged.
Solid-fuel systems such as those burning coal or wood chips are easily retrofitted to burn pellets through simple fuel and air supply adjustments. A pelletized, refined fuel system will always burn cleaner than one using raw wood. Pellet fuel also emits far less smoke and particulates than fossil fuel. As research using technology in commercial pellet burning systems advances, there could be even more efficiencies to come. With reduced costs, ease of operation and negligible environmental impacts, pellet fuel is a boon to consumers. It is also an economic benefit to the communities where pellet heat is produced. Their manufacture helps address some of the sawmill industry’s waste problems. Pellet plants provide jobs, pellet dollars stay in the region and communities rely less on foreign energy.