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Archive for January, 2007

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More Wood Pellet Supply Problems in US
and a Lesson for Ireland

There is a growing problem of wood pellet shortages in the USA which is causing very real distress to householders there. The problem is international as well as being a US problem. Some producers in the US are exporting pellets to Europe because of the demand here, this is causing greater problems in the States.

A story by Stefanie Knowlton, published in the Statesman Journal, graphically illustrates the situation. I am reproducing some extracts here, with permission.

“Salem resident Wendy Mullin . . . borrowed a truck Tuesday and bundled up her 2-year-old daughter in hopes of getting pellets after six weeks of waiting. But when she arrived at 9:30 a.m., no pellets were left.”

“Enticed by stable heating costs and cleaner fuel, a record number of people nationwide bought pellet stoves. But instead of basking in the environmentally friendly glow of the new stoves, Mullin and other local residents are calling businesses throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho to get their hands on the heating pellets.”

“Part of the problem is a shortage of raw material, Elliot (sales and marketing manager at Bear Mountain Forest Products ) said. The pellets are made from compressed sawdust from lumber mills. With fewer houses being built, he said, there is less sawdust in the mills. Also, British Columbia, a large West Coast supplier, now is selling its pellets in Europe.”

“ … the biggest reason for the shortage, … is a surge in pellet-stove sales. Two years ago, few people outside the “Mother Earth News” crowd knew what they were, . . . but as gas and oil prices increased, people started to discover them. Others were enticed by the stove’s renewable fuel source and the fact that it burns cleaner than wood.”

“Albany resident Margaret Althaus took the day off from her job at Salem Hospital on Tuesday to wait in line for pellets for her son. In November, he replaced the wood stove — the home’s only source of heat — with a pellet stove. Althaus got six 40-pound bags Tuesday, which might last about a week. “We’re going to keep looking,” she said.”

Salutary Lesson for Ireland and Europe

The above story should be a warning to Ireland and the whole of Europe. SEI (Sustainable Energy Ireland) is pumping millions of our money into promoting the sale of wood pellet stoves and boilers by giving very generous grants, but without properly planning the supply of fuel. This is a formula for future problems.

I am seriously worried that there is a lack of “joined up thinking” by SEI and the Irish Government in this matter. If wood pellets are made from the by-product of the building industry and the building industry slows down, there will be a shortage of wood pellets.

We Need Dedicated Forests to Supply Wood Pellets

Wood pellets will have to be manufactured from dedicated forest materials, and not depend on the state of other industries or on the international marketplace.

I wish to thank Stefanie Knowlton for permission to use her material.
The full article can be read at the following link: http://159.54.226.83/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070124/NEWS/701240345

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Wood Smoke is almost as
Dangerous as Tobacco Smoke!!!

Studies and experience in the USA suggest that inhaling wood smoke is highly dangerous. Wood smoke contains some of the smallest pollutant particles of any smoke. Because these particles are so tiny they can permeate deep into the lungs so deep they can’t be coughed up. The result is frequently permanent lung damage — a particular risk for those with asthma and other ailments.

There are several studies which show that wood smoke is particularly damaging to the lungs. The problem arises in cold weather where high pressure keeps the air trapped near the ground. In these condition people can breath in a lot of wood smoke.

These finding give rise to the question; Is there any really safe way to heat our homes?

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Ireland’s Energy Policy Illustrated

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Energy Planning for National Security

The Government bio-energy plan was published at IRBEA Bio Energy Conference on 19th Jan 2007 in Portlaoise.

The Government task force was headed by Natural Resources Minister Noel Dempsey. Their job was to deliver a national plan on renewable energy.

Members of the group, which held its first meeting in July of last year, include Finance Minister Brian Cowen, Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan, Environment Minister Dick Roche, Transport Minister Martin Cullen and Enterprise Minister Micheal Martin.

This all sounds great so far with the trumpets and hoo – ha, except for the fact that the targets are miserable and useless targets.

The Government 2010 Targets

The targets to be reached by 2010 are as follows:

To have 15% of electricity generated by sustainable energy by 2010.
To have 5% of heat produced from renewable sources by 2010.
To have 5.75% of cars and trucks etc. using Bio-Diesel by 2010

The reality is just NOT being faced. That the planet will run out of oil in the near future. In the meantime any international crisis could interrupt our supply of oil, coal, and natural gas, and where would that leave us.

Energy Planning Needs to be on the Basis of National Security

This should Government Plan should be addressed on the basis of National Security. The security of this nation is in the hands of the Russians and the Arabs. It is also in the hand of international terrorism. Just a couple of big terror incidents would effectively plunge the world into a crisis and cut off our fuel.

My Tuppence Worth of Suggestions

I would suggest we consider the following targets:

30% Electricity by Wind and Bio-Mass by 2010
20% of heating by wood pellet, geo-thermal, and bio-mass by 2010
20% use of bio-diesel and ethanol in transport by 2010

If we achieved these figures, we might then avert a disaster in our economy and financial security, and in our infrastructural and physical security, when the BIG-DROP happens.

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More Wood Pellet Supply Woes

Wood Pellets, like oil, are now an international commodity with prices being driven on a world wide market.

An estimated 60% of new homes built in Europe are using wood pellet heating instead of electricity, oil, or natural gas heating. In some countries, entire towns and villages are generating electricity and heat with wood pellets. In the USA and estimated 120,000 pellet stoves were sold last year. This is up a massive 76% on the previous year. Problem is that supply of fuel is not catching up fast enough.

Prices of wood pellets in the US went up again recently from about $180 a ton to $195 to $200. Same story in Ireland. Maybe next year supply will be up but you can rest assured that prices will also be up.

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Daily Mail Article

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The Irish Daily Mail published a good article by Helen Bruce on the Wood Pellet cock-up by the government and SEI on last Wednesday 10th January. There was also some razor sharp editorial comment which was very to the point.

I am very happy to see this information getting into the regular media.

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The Development of the Wood Pellet Boiler

Today’s Designs are in or about the 1940 ies

I am beginning to arrive at the opinion that wood pellet boilers are where oil-fired-boilers were in 1940 to 1950.

Today you can purchase an oil fired boiler just about anywhere in the world and it will have all of the safety and efficiency features of most any other oil boiler. It will also have a price tag within a fairly tight set of brackets. Most burner units are standard and will fit into most boilers of a given output.

The unit does not have to be purchased as seperate bits, such as; oil pump, ignition unit, control box etc. etc. The burners, for the most part, are fully integrated units, with standard parts by companies like Danfoss etc.

Wood Pellet – Heath Robinson affairs

With Wood-Pellet-Boilers it is a different story altogether. Burner units are very varied in design. Bottom feed, top feed, lateral feed!! There are no standard safety features. All sorts of strange control systems unique to a particular manufacturer, and darn expensive for that very reason.

The fuel delivery systems are nothing short of “Heath Robinson” affairs. The systems, on a whole, are the equivalelt of DIY kits in a lot of cases.

Many of the boilers, in fact I would say most of the boilers, out there are modified lump wood burning boilers that have been modified to accept a pellet burner unit – stuck into the front or a side.

No Agreed Standards

There are no agreed standards yet. Such as a burn back prevention system, or a standard ignition system, a feed system, or even fitting flange systems. In a few years time many of the current clutch of wood-pellet-boilers will be seen as antiques and quaint objects suitable for museums.

A Twelfth Reason for not going Wood Pellet just yet.

Buying a wood pellet boiler now is simply subsidising the costs of development. In a few years there will be standardised units from Danfoss and similar, and the whole thing will cost a half or less of the current crazy prices.

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Wood Pellets Featured on Pat Kenny

Some of the points I have been making on this blog were dealt with on the Pat Kenny Radio show on RTE 1 on last Tuesday January 9th.

Points like:

(1) That SEI and the Irish Government have promoted the installation of wood pellet heaters without considering the supply or price of wood pellets.
(2) That wood pellets are now scarce and over priced.
(3) That SEI did not do their job fully by properly planning supply lines.

Briain Smyth did a very good job of presenting the ludicrous situation that presently exists in wood pellets. Briain is soon opening a very large wood pellet factory in Co. Carlow.

The SEI representative on the show attempted to whitewash the supply cock-up, but Pat Kenny did not let him off the hook.

You can listen to the podcast on http://www.rte.ie. Go to “radio 1”, then “Pat Kenny” and the specific show.

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