Global Timber Trade - Information

Wood pellets (for fuel)

Click here for charts illustrating each EU member state's monthly imports and exports of wood pellets


EU-28 pellet imports
 Source: based on Eurostat
One power station, Drax, accounted for almost all the growth in EU imports during recent years. That growth has halted since 1) Drax's fourth and final unit was converted to burn biomass and 2) the UK government made the burning of wood pellets for power ineligible for subsidy.

EU-28 pellet production Source: based on FAOSTAT
Between 2014 and 2017, annual growth in pellet production in the EU was modest (roughly 5%).
Taken together, the two charts above tend to confirm that Excluding Drax, a large majority (roughly 80%) of pellets burned in the EU are produced in the EU.  This suggests that investment in the supply of pellets for import into the EU may be ill-advised, especially if based on  assertions by the industry that the EU market is booming.

USA's exports - by customs district (to 31 03 2019)
Source: based on USITC Trade Dataweb (code 440131)

Only two major destinations;  exports to both declining;  Drax has brought its fourth & final unit into operation


Canada's exports  (to 31 12 2018)
Source: based on Statistics Canada (code 440131)

Drax' biomass feedstock 
Source: based on Drax plc Annual Reports (various years)

Republic of Korea's imports
Source: based on Korea Customs Service (code 440131)


Japan's imports
Source: based on Trade Statistics of Japan (code 44013100)
Click here for Japan's imports by customs district and relevant power stations


EU imports from outside the EU - weight
Source: based on Eurostat (CN8, monthly, codes 44013020 and 44013100)


Intra-EU imports of wood pellets
Source: based on Eurostat (CN8, monthly, codes 44013020 and 44013100)


EU imports of wood pellets
Source: based on Eurostat (CN8, monthly, codes 44013020 and 44013100) and Drax plc pubications

UK imports (predominantly for Drax)
Source: based on Eurostat (CN8, monthly, codes 44013020 and 44013100) and Drax Annual Report 2015

This chart supports the view that Drax power station might emit more greenhouse gas from wood than any other single UK source -
burning six million tonnes of pellets would produce approximately ten million tonnes of CO2 [based on Tables 2 & 6]. 
A complaint has been lodged with the USA's Securities and Exchange Commission concerning allegedly misleading statements made in the IPO of one of Drax's leading suppliers.[-]  Another of Drax's leading suppliers has declared itself (provisionally) insolvent.[-][-][-][-]

Roundwood equivalent volume of Drax's share of UK imports
Source: based on Eurostat   Drax Annual Report 2015   Drax biomass supply report  UNECE

EU imports from outside the EU - import value
Source: based on Eurostat (CN8, monthly, codes 44013020 and 44013100)


Exports to the UK from Canada and the USA - unit export value
Source: based on Statistics Canada and USITC Trade DataWeb

Trade in pellets from the Baltic States to the UK

Source: based on Eurostat (CN8, monthly, code 44013100)


Wood pellets

One of the EU's leading suppliers of wood pellets has recently been declared bankrupt and there are allegations that its interests in pellet manufacturing in the USA were fraudulent.[-]  The group's bankruptcy jeopardised proposals to convert the Langerloo power station (in Belgium) to use biomass fuel (which has now ceased burning coal[-] until that power station was acquired by Graanul Invest (based in Estonia), which claims to be the biggest producer of wood pellets in Europe.[-]  There is little public information about the ownership and financing of the group.  The group indicates that its pellets derive from the by-products of saw mills in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.[-]

The discrepancy between the weight of pellets exported to the UK from Latvia and the weight of pellets imported by the UK from Latvia is sufficiently large and persistent to warrant explanation by Drax and the SBP (which, being largely controlled by Drax and major electricity generating companies, has a clear conflict of interest as a scheme which certifies its owners supplies of pellets). The discrepancy also warrants liason between the customs services of Latvia and the UK, and their compatriots in Competent Authorities under the EU's "Timber Regulation" (given that fraud might be a leading explanation). None of the Baltic States imports substantial quantities of wood pellets from Russia and/or Belarus.

One of the power stations which have been awarded large subsidies from the UK government[Slide 6] has yet to be built.  Its main contractor[-][-] is currently subject to bankruptcy proceedings[-] This will presumably delay[-] not only the project's financial close[-][-], but also the commencement of construction (now expected Q2 2017[-]).  The contractor's bankruptcy would have jeopardises the proposed construction of a 215MW power station in Belgium, but a replacement contractor has been appointed.[-][-].

The sole supplier of wood pellets to that power station[search term MGT] would seem to be linked to an enterprise against which a formal complaint has been made to the USA's Securities and Exchange Commission[-].  That complaint alleges misrepresentation of evidence provided to investors.

According to a statement by its developer, greenhouse gas emissions of the Teesside power station are capped at a level roughly five times less than those of a coal-fired power station of the same capacity.  This is so unlikely that investors and officials should question why that statement has been made.  Given that the power station's fuel, wood (in the form of pellets and/or chips) emits at least as much CO2 on combustion as coal per unit of calorific value, such a cap on its emissions would implicitly cap the power station's output, in turn capping the power station's potential revenue to roughly five times less than if it were coal-fired.

The developer also states that the power station will save a substantial quantity of CO2 during its life,[-] as does its financial adivser[footnote ii].  However, power stations do not sequester CO2 and sustaining cheap electricity supplies tends to promote consumption (- typically and for the time being, of products having a signigificant greenhouse gas footprint).  Further, as is the convention amongst those who promote the generation of electricity from biomass, that purported saving assumes that biomass burned in power stations does not emit CO2.

The requirement that its wood fuel will derive from sources which are sustainably managed will severely constrain the supply of that fuel.  Very little woodland in south eastern USA is certified as being sustainably managed.  Given that the structure of woodland ownership is highly fragmented and given that owners are subject to minimal regulation - particularly in relation to sustaining the nature of that land - there is little assurance that certified woodland will remain eligible (and there is a risk that if that woodland is not already a plantation, it will be cleared in order to become one, fundamentally changing the nature of that land).



Suggested reading:
"Burning wood from Southern US forests to generate electricity in Europe"
(letter from US Scientists to the EC 08 2013)

"Forest Bionergy for Europe - What sceience can tell us" EFI (2014)

"Review of literature on biogenic carbon and life cycle assessment of forest bioenergy" Forest research (05 2014)

"State of play on the sustainability of solid and gaseous biomass used for electricity, heating and cooling in the EU" EC (2014)

"Carbon Emissions and Climate Change Disclosure by the Wood Pellet Industry – A Report to the SEC on Enviva Partners LP" Partnership for Policy Integrity and Dogwood Alliance (03 2016)

"Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate" D Brack for Chatham House (02 2017)