By KATE GALBRAITH
Published: May 1, 2012
AUSTIN, TEXAS — A century ago, rural homes in the United States and Europe commonly relied on wood for heating. Now wood is making a comeback, thanks largely to pellet technology.
The energy-dense pellets, which resemble dry dog kibble and are mostly made from mill residue like sawdust and wood shavings, can be used to generate heat or electricity — or both at the same time. Demand is strong in Europe, where high prices for heating oil and clean-energy requirements have fostered interest in alternatives, but analysts say that over the long term, markets in Asia and North America could grow rapidly, too.
Modern pellet furnaces for homes are a “very convenient way of heating,” said Christian Rakos, president of the European Pellet Council, an industry group. “The only thing you have to do is empty an ash box once a year.”
Europe accounted for close to 85 percent of the global pellet demand in 2010, according to a report issued in December by an international group called IEA Bioenergy Task 40.
Although many pellets used in Europe are manufactured on the Continent, the rising demand has caused an increase in new export-oriented pellet plants in Canada, Russia and especially the United States, whose mills already make more pellets than any other country. In the heavily wooded American South, nine huge industrial pellet plants are under development, according to Forisk Consulting, a timber research group in Georgia.