Catch up with PFI in this issue of the Pellet Wire!

March 29, 2024

From the Director’s Desk: That's a Wrap: Francis Scott Key Bridge Accident, EIA Seeking Guidance on Monthly Densified Biomass Fuel Report, PFI Annual Conference Starts in 90 Days

Francis Scott Key Bridge Accident

On Tuesday morning, like most of the country, I woke up to learn that a bridge I had never heard of had collapsed after being struck by an outbound container vessel, and six people (construction workers performing some road maintenance) had plunged into the chilly Patapsco River and lost their lives. The video is disturbing as the sailing ship impacts the supporting pillar and the stout bridge tumbles like a child’s model into the river. This accident will cripple the Port of Baltimore for some time as engineers work to remove the bridge from the ship, so clean-up (and rebuild) operations may commence. Pondered for even a moment, the enormity of the project comes into increasing focus.

The universe has a strange way of sharing the world with you, moment by moment. Earlier this month in Richmond I was having dinner with two members. We were having a conversation about hardwood flooring exports, the business climate in China, and accessing those markets. This member shared with me that their best egress to ocean-going freight was the Port of Baltimore. When I learned about the tragedy at the Francis Scott Key Bridge, I immediately returned to that conversation.

The interconnectedness of our global economy fascinates me. This may be my favorite part of my job, seeing how the web of supply and demand stretches around the world and a new condominium in Shenzhen can feature a red oak floor milled in Troy, Pennsylvania. All of this is made possible by an incredible array of freight assets that operate largely in obscurity until a calamity like the one in Baltimore on Tuesday.

Most amazing of all is that commerce finds a way. It always does. I was speaking with another member early Tuesday and we both noted that every freight broker in the country just got incredibly busy. For now, freight will have to be rerouted and the scramble to make all of that happen has already begun.

EIA Seeking Guidance on Monthly Densified Biomass Fuel Report

Included in this week’s Industry News is a request from the Energy Information Administration for producers to comment on Form EIA-63C, the often cited (here in the Pellet Wire), Monthly Densified Biomass Fuel Report. The EIA is looking specifically for, “whether or not the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of agency functions, including whether the information will have a practical utility; EIA’s estimate of the burden of the proposed collection information, including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used, is accurate; EIA can improve the quality, utility, and clarity of the information it will collection; and EIA can minimize the burden of the collection of information on respondents, such as automated collection techniques or other forms of information technology.”

I urge anyone reading who uses this data and/or is responsible for reporting that information to spend some time thinking about the report, its utility, what would make it easier to participate in, and what changes might be of interest. Past attendees of PFI Annual Conferences will remember that Connor Murphy and Patricia Hutchins, both from the EIA are regular presenters at our event and are interested in feedback regarding the report. We also have heard that the administration places a high value on protecting proprietary information, so the report and its level of granularity must be managed with an eye on the continued protection of proprietary and plant-specific information.

As it happens, I spend a good deal of time with this report, and I’ll offer up these thoughts:

  1. Separate feedstock data into premium vs. utility grade.
    Production, inventory, and sales are each bifurcated into premium/standard and utility-grade data. Sales data are split into domestic and export data (Table 7 and Table 8 respectively), but those familiar with the two markets know that domestic sales represent bagged premium wood pellets and export sales are utility-grade pellets. That said, feedstock data (in Table 3) combines data from all producers making it difficult to arrive at an exact number of sawmill residual purchases for premium pellet production, say. This one is notable to me as I regularly cite sawmill residual data in discussions with policymakers about the economic impact of wood pellet manufacturing in the state. I don’t quote the exact number the EIA offers (7.7 million tons in 2023) and instead use a formula that supposes residual purchases at 160-200% of the tonnage of the finished product. I’d like to see feedstock purchases separated in the same way as the other data points, premium vs. utility.

  2. Better visibility on pellets produced for BBQ markets. 
    “Are BBQ pellets included in the EIA data?” I get this question about 5-6 times a year. On the “About” tab of the report, this is offered about Table 7, “Displays sales (tons) and average price (revenue per ton) of primarily wood pellets in the domestic heating market for the reporting month. Sales and average revenue per ton include both retail and wholesale sales.” Good data on the entire BBQ market is still in a bit of a black box and nearly all wood pellet producers participate in the market, even if only as a contract producer.

  3. Smaller geographies.
    I know this one has been offered before and I know this request is difficult because as reporting geographies get smaller, it gets difficult to protect individual respondent data. Still, Missouri and Maine feel like very different markets, but they are both rolled up into one region.

The Monthly Densified Biomass Fuel Report is an enormously important data set that offers incredible utility to our sector and the individual players within the sector. I urge you to spend some time and offer your feedback to the agency.

Those interested in offering commentary, can do so on the Federal Register website.

PFI Annual Conference Registration Is Now Open

This year’s PFI Annual Conference starts in about 90 days. This year’s conference is in Charleston, South Carolina, June 25-27. Come catch up on the wood pellet sector, the year we’ve had, and your friends from the sector, while simultaneously seeing what “Low Country” cuisine is all about. We’re at a great hotel in a great historic American city.

—Tim Portz
 Executive Director

2024 Annual Conference

Photo of the Week:

Winter Holding its Grip: Probably file under “Too Little, Too Late” but winter reasserted itself this week with a massive snow event in the Upper Midwest and some cold air behind it. The cold air didn’t stick around as long as heating fuel producers would have liked, but it certainly extended a season that felt all but over.

Photo Source: Climate Prediction Center

Send Us Your Photos! Help us build a collection of photos of our members, their pellet mills, and products! Send images to Tim Portz at [email protected].

Industry News

EIA Monthly Densified Biomass Report

As of December 2023, the monthly data collection included 76 operating manufacturers of densified biomass fuel. These manufacturers had a total production capacity of 12.96 million tons per year and collectively had an equivalent of 2,467 full-time employees.

View Data

Heating Degree Days Data

Heating Degree Day Data Weekly Summary
Climate Prediction Center-NCEP-NWS-NOAA
Accumulations are from July 1, 2023 to March 23, 2024

View Data

What to know about the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse in Baltimore

The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsed early Tuesday morning after a container ship collided with it, sending people into the water and creating a tense scene as search-and-rescue crews attempted to locate them.

Read Article

EIA Seeks Comments on Wood Pellet Data Collection

The U.S. Energy Information Administration is providing an opportunity for stakeholders in the U.S. densified biomass industry, such as wood pellet producers, to comment on ways to improve its monthly data collection efforts.  

Read Article

EIA: Densified Biomass Fuel Sales Reach 960,000 Tons in December

U.S. manufacturers produced approximately 880,000 tons of densified biomass fuels in December, according to the March edition of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Monthly Densified Biomass Fuels Report. Sales of densified biomass fuel reached 960,000 tons during the month.

Read Article

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