I had the great pleasure of moderating an expert panel at the Heating the Northeast Conference in Manchester, NH, on April 14. The presentation was entitled “Pellet Fuel Standards: The Key to Successful Pellet Heating.” The topic of discussion was the most recent set of pellet quality standards adopted by the Pellet Fuels Institute under strong recommendation from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Chris Wiberg, Chief Operating Officer of Twin Port Testing in Superior, Wisconsin, discussed the new pellet quality standards, the enforcement protocols associated with them, and the processes used to create them. The standards are a rather simple evolution of the PFI’s recent voluntary standards focusing largely on physical properties of the pellets. Chlorine content is a new, significant measure added to the protocol. Likely the most substantive standards change is the enforceability of the standards when pellet producers use terms like “premium” in describing their product. This enforceability stems from the EPA’s need for a “standard fuel” to use in describing test methods for emissions from pellet-fired appliances.
Three expert panelists responded to Wiberg’s explanations. Herbert Ortner, founder and CEO of OkoFEN Pelletsheizung, Niederkappel, Austria, Steven Walker, President and CEO of New England Wood Pellet, Jaffrey, NH, and Robert Rice, Professor of Wood Science, School of Forest Resources, University of Maine, Orono, Maine, each offered thoughts about the standards from their own perspectives.
Ortner reflected on the importance of standards to reliable performance and widespread adoption of pellet-fired equipment. He noted the continuous, ongoing evolution of pellet fuel standards in European countries and the European Union. Wiberg said that the PFI Committee had followed the European work and used it as a basis for its own standards.
Walker applauded the standardization efforts as important for the health of the pellet fuels industry. His remarks drew on years of experience in the pellet production business and recognized the importance of protecting industry image by ensuring quality products from all manufacturers.
Rice discussed pellet attributes beyond those currently measured that are important to successful pellet performance. He based his presentation on his long history of wood properties measurement and his extension recent work analyzing regionally produced wood pellets.
Audience participation in the question and answer people was lively and educated. Lisa Rector of NESCAUM noted that her lab had found evidence of foreign substances, probably from construction debris, in many pellet bags it tested. She suggested that a test to ensure that wood pellets include no such contaminants is important. A test for lead as an indicator was suggested.
The absence of ash fusion temperature as a required parameter in the test was discussed. Low ash fusion temperatures indicate the likelihood of clinker or slag formation during combustion.
There was a discussion of whether or not the current durability test, derived from the poultry feed industry, is the most effective test to predict the pellets’ ability to survive handling in bulk distribution practices. The Holmen Test used in the EU and a strength test used by Bob Rice may provide better information about pellets’ performance in pnuematic handling systems than the conventional shaker test. As bulk handling moves from mechanical handling common to the animal feed industry to the more effective pnuematic handling common for pellet handling in more experienced countries, protocols for durability/strength tests should probably be reconsidered.
I left the session impressed with the good work of many in the pellet production/testing industry and with the abundance of expertise on pellet attributes and performance available to that industry. I also left convinced that the committees and panels that work on the ongoing development of pellet standards should include representatives from related industries and agencies. Good questions about the standards and their use in ensuring reliable system performance were raised by members of the environmental community and members of the bulk distribution community.
I extend sincere apprecation to all who took part in this discussion, both those on the panel and those in the audience.