By Nok-Noi Ricker
Bangor Daily News
BREWER, Maine — As Mainers use more wood pellets as an alternative to heating oil for their winter warmth, there is a growing demand for bulk deliveries of wood pellets.
Bulk delivery has been problematic because of the amount of damage done to the product during the transport and delivery process, but a company in Brewer has designed a new kind of delivery truck for that purpose.
Trans-Tech Industries of Brewer, which designed and created an air-driven prototype delivery system for a truck for Maine Energy Systems of Bethel that has been in use for more than a year, on Monday delivered a second, upgraded version of the pneumatic truck that is larger and faster.
“This one will deliver a ton of pellets in around four minutes,” Ken Peters, president and owner of the Brewer company, said Monday as a crew checked the truck’s systems.
The new wood pellet delivery system doesn’t damage the fuel and delivers it quickly to homes, schools and businesses, said Harry “Dutch” Dresser, the Maine Energy Fuels’ managing director.
“The pellets [are] just floating on air so they don’t get harmed,” he said. “This is the second pneumatic-style pellet truck in the U.S.”
With two air-driven trucks, “we’re in full delivery mode,” Dresser said.
Maine Energy Systems is not the only Maine company that offers delivery of wood pellets. Dysart’s in Hermon, H.O. Bouchard’s in Hampden, and Heutz Premium Pellet Systems in Lewiston deliver wood pellets and Daigle Oil Company in Fort Kent purchased a belt-driven pellet delivery truck from Maine Energy Systems earlier this year.
“We just got into it this past May,” Daigle Oil president and part owner, Dan Vaillancourt, said Friday. “We’ve been investigating this for several years, but we weren’t sure the market was ripe.”
The used pellet delivery truck is three years old and has a modified grain delivery system with an air system on the back of the truck that is used to push the pellets into the home’s or business’ storage containers.
“We’ll probably have close to 30 delivery locations this winter ranging from small residential deliveries to larger commercial locations,” Vaillancourt said.
Dysart’s Service has been delivering pallets of bagged wood pellets for three years, Tim Dysart said Friday.
“We deliver bags on a pallet,” he said. “We just drop the pallet in your garage or wherever you want it.”
Dysart’s delivers wood pellets from three different Maine manufacturing facilities, but their best-selling pellets actually come from Canada. The company also delivers bulk pellets to one industrial customer, Dysart said.
“We have a truck working two or three days a week this time of year,” he said. “A lot of pellets are bought early in the season and they are put away for the season.”
Those people who run out typically just pick up a few extra bags to carry them through to the end of the heating season, Dysart said.
H.O. Bouchard Inc. delivers wood pellets to Jackson Lab, which chooses to use Maine-sourced fuel, in a massive 32-ton delivery truck that has been in use for just more than a year, the company’s Fall 2011 newsletter states.
The surging cost of oil is one reason why Mainers have turned to wood pellets, and their popularity has grown considerably over the last few years.
“Maine is fortunate to have four excellent in-state pellet manufacturers, plus another in New Hampshire, producing premium grade pellets for stove and boiler use,” the Maine Pellet Fuels Association, based in Portland, website states. “Maine leads the nation in its efforts to make bulk pellet delivery widely available.”
Corinth Wood Pellets in Corinth, Geneva Wood Fuels in Strong, Maine Wood Pellets Co. in Athens and Northeast Pellets of Ashland are making fuel using logs taken from the Maine woods by local loggers, the website states.
“In certain instances, the manufacturers will make bulk deliveries,” the site states.
With the growth of the industry comes more convenience, both Vaillancourt and Dresser said.
“Most people think of bulk pellets as 50, 40-pound bags on a pallet,” Dresser said. “Now, [the pellets] can go into a hopper and come out ash and you never see a pallet.”
Self-feeding heating units, three-ton capacity fabric silos that have become popular with residents and bulk deliveries are making pellet stoves even more appealing, Vaillancourt said.
There are some new “very high quality boilers that make it very easy for the homeowners to use,” the Fort Kent home heating fuel president said. “The delivery systems are very much like liquid fuel. It’s very user-friendly. It’s a self-feed and self-clean system — it’s the future of that industry.”