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

April 3, 2020 

In this Week's Pellet Wire:

Executive Director's Notes: Counting Our Blessings

I’d like to open by wishing everyone good health in this concerning and troubling time. The COVID-19 pandemic has untold millions of people at home under safer-at-home provisions while others, wood pellet producers included, endeavor to safely perform their jobs in an economy that seems to change almost daily. I’m honored to know and represent all of you.

Like all of you, COVID-19 dominates my phone conversations, both work, and personal calls. In both categories, the conversation eventually turns to the impact COVID-19 has had or may eventually have on our lives, at home, and at work. During conversations I’ve had with professional colleagues, I have found myself comparing the wood pellet industry to other players in the energy and wood products markets, hoping to better anticipate the challenges in front of us. It didn’t take long to compile a consistent list of things I’m grateful for.

  1. We produce a space heating fuel of which demand correlates tightly with the depth and length of winter. From a demand perspective, COVID-19 will have little impact on how many wood pellets consumers buy next heating season. Consider for a moment the marketplace conditions the manufacturers of transportation fuels are currently facing. The demand for those products is greater than 50%, and prices are plummeting. Falling heating oil prices will have an impact on customers who retained their oil appliances, but the fundamental demand driver (falling temperatures) will remain unaffected. 

  2. I’m grateful the 2019-’20 heating season was largely wrapped up when the outbreak really began to accelerate. It isn’t uncommon for producers to slow production in March and April. EIA certainly supports this with March-April representing the lowest two-month stretch of production for 2017, 2018 and 2019. If we had to pick a place on the wood pellet production calendar to place a disruption of this magnitude, we would probably pick March-April.

  3. Wood pellet production is “social-distancing friendly,” Last week, I was trying to find the right words to describe how wood pellet production happens in a big space with relatively small teams (labor density didn’t seem quite right). I’ve been in wood pellet facilities with production crews in the single digits, often working at a great remove from one another. Facilities have both inbound and outbound truck traffic to manage, but I’m already hearing about plants transitioning to contactless or nearly contactless shipping and receiving practices.

  4. We’re coming off a good year. I’ll stop short of calling it a great year as demand really started to wither in December with winter never really showing up in force in some key markets. Still, the industry sold 122,000 more tons in 2019 than in 2018, generating over $46 million in new revenues when compared to 2018. 

  5. The Department of Homeland Security has classified the forest products sector as “essential infrastructure,” wood pellet manufacturing included. Last week, the PFI distributed letters to state governors reminding them of this guidance from the DHS and asking them to allow wood pellet manufacturers to continue production. For now, mandatory stoppages aren’t a challenge we have to overcome. 

  6. Our industry is populated with clever people. Last week, I reached out to Darren Winchester at Indeck Energy in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, and asked what changes he had made to his operation in response to the pandemic. I was blown away as Darren rattled off a comprehensive list of common-sense changes they had already deployed. Wood pellet manufacturers are problem solvers, and I’ve got great faith in their ability to adapt to this strange new normal. 

Make no mistake, we’ve got incredible challenges on the horizon. Like every other sector out there, we are all wondering how long all of this will last and wishing for a speedy return to business as usual. While production slows in March and April, it doesn’t stop altogether, and last year the “spring slowdown” wasn’t much of a throttle down with the industry producing over 280,000 tons over the time period. To meet demand next fall, we’ll need to maintain production as best we can through this pandemic. That is clear. Finally, a slowing economy leads to slowing fiber streams. While forest products manufacturing has been deemed essential, that doesn’t change the demand challenges facing dimensional lumber, flooring, molding and cabinet manufacturers. As they slow, available fiber inventories will certainly tighten.

Tough times don’t last, tough people, do.

Stay safe and be well.

Tim Portz 
Executive Director

Photo of the Week: Pacific Coast Pellets

A shot of producer member Pacific Coast Pellets' production facility in Shelton, Washington. Built in 2008, the plant uses the newest and most efficient pellet production technologies, manufacturing pellets under the brands Olympus, Cascade, and Sierra Supreme.

Photo Caption: Fiber By-Products--Corp.’s packaging and PFI-certified lab technician works his magic to ensure pellet fuel is meeting—and exceeding—PFI Standards Program requirements.

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

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Have News to Share on Pellet Wire?

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Please get in touch with Tim Portz via email at [email protected] with information on your company's growth, job openings, promotions, or other news. 

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Industry News

U.S. EIA Monthly Densified Fuel Report-December 2019 (U.S. EIA):

Densified biomass fuel manufacturing facilities in the United States by state, region, and capacity, December 2019.

Read Full Article

PFI urges states to exempt pellet plants from business shutdowns (Biomass Magazine): 

On March 24, the Pellet Fuels Institute sent letters to the governors of wood pellet producing states urging them to align their essential businesses policies with those outlined by the Department of Homeland Security...

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FFJ launches directory on wood bioenergy research (Biomass Magazine):

Future Forests + Jobs announced on March 25 the launch of the FFJ Research Directory, a repository of academic research, papers and studies that document the positive contributions wood bioenergy is making to the energy sector...

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After delay, PA pellet producers deemed essential workforce (Biomass Magazine):

Despite immediate guidance from the U.S. Department of Homeland and Security and U.S. Department of Labor recognizing forest product manufacturing sites as an essential critical infrastructure workforce, Pennsylvania wood pellet producers, along with other wood-processing operations in the state, were temporarily forced to shut down...

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First-of-its kind wood pellet plant leaves North Carolina community wondering (

A new kind of wood pellet plant is raising questions in North Carolina’s Robeson County — from how it will impact public health to whether it’s in line with Gov. Roy Cooper’s goals on climate pollution...

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Wood pellet plant may locate in northern Hubbard County (Park Rapids Enterprise): 

The Hubbard County Board is providing a letter of support for Minnesota House File 3484 and Senate File 3229, which propose a production incentive of $25 per metric ton in favor of NorthStar Pellets...

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Pellet pioneer: Q&A with pellet plant general manager Ritu Linhart (Canadian Biomass Magazine):

Ritu Linhart is the general manager for Pinnacle Renewable Energy’s Aliceville wood pellet plant in Alabama. A process engineer by trade, Linhart had a diverse career in chemical engineering, business, R&D, and academia before turning to the wood pellet industry...

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Pellet Fuels Institute

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