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.
Click here for a related commentary on EU member states' trade in wood pellets.
Click here for a summary of the share price performance of Drax and Enviva Biomass.

Exports of pellets from the USA - customs distrtict by destination
Source: based on USITC Trade DataWeb successive 12-monthy periods - 2021 to end May 2024
 
Rate of clear-felling (/ loss of sequestered carbon) rising fastest in Alabama & Georgia?
Enviva (Southampton) problems in Virginia?  Exports to leading markets in Europe declining. 
Who is burning US pellets in "France"?  "GMR" refers to Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion (French territories)

Unit value of pellets exported from USA during spot market hiatus
Source: based on USITC Trade DataWeb successive 12-monthy periods - 2021 to end May 2024
 "
Energy security" would tend to have deteriorated due to the hiatus in spot market prices and corresponding subsidy payments.  The hiatus may have also revealed the fragility of the market and corporate behaviour - as Enviva admits in its Q3 2023 report, pellet trade contracts made at that time might contribute to its bankruptcy.  The trend shown in the chart is upwards, jeopardising prospects for continuted subsidy.  Cost cutting will tend to further erode the false veneer that regional certification confirms sustainability and that, crucially, burning woody biomass is carbon neutral.     UK Contracts for Difference purportedly seek long-term decreases in price of energy delivered.  Ofgem has not made public the terms of reference for its investigation of Drax' subsidy claims.

UK imports of pellets from USA, weight by port and unit import value
Source: based on UK Trade Info  (up to 31 05 2024)
I
mport value per unit of weight will vary with the mix of long-term, contracted supplies and purchases (some speculative) on the spot market (spot prices rose steeply during autumn 2022).  Does the decrease in imports through the Port of Tyne imply problems at Lynemouth? That port supplies up to 100% of the wood pellets which EPH Lynemouth burns - to generate subsidies -  perhaps 30,000 tonnes per week  or 1.4 million tonnes per year (from 2018) 

 

UK imports of pellets compared with UK electricity prices
Source: [imports] based on Eurostat and UK Trade Info (to June 2024);   Drax annual reports;
[electricity prices] Low Carbon Contracts Company (from 31 07 2016) Electric Insights Q1 2024 (01 01 2010 to 31 03 2024)

Weak regulation of CfD subsidies? Pellet burners (and, if incentivised by remuneration strategy, senior executives) profiting by generating less when prices are high - thereby worsening price spikes for electricity (and, in turn, methane), prompting reduced heat and power use by the poor?  Almost all burned at Drax and EPH Lynemouth to generate subsidies & to pretend zero CO2 emissions?



Global production, imports and exports
Highly concentrated in terms of countries, suppliers and (in Europe) buyers - an implicitly fragile market


Leading global bilateral trade flows
Imports dominated by a handful of countries which ignore CO2 emissions from burning woody biomass but fail to compensate their suppying countries of origin for this accounting loophole (especially for the decline in asset value available to sequester local emissions).


EU-27 and UK - pellet imports

Source: based on Eurostat and Drax plc publications.  Assumes 7.1 million tonnes burned by Drax during 2020.
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.  The subsequent increase is attributable mainly to Lynemouth power station.  The decline in UK imports is indicative of a preference for profit over UK energy insecurity (conflicting with the purpose of CfD subsidies).



EU-27 pellet production Source: based on FAOSTAT

Taken together, the two charts above tend to confirm that excluding Drax and Lynemounth, a large majority (roughly 80%) of pellets burned in the EU are produced in the EU.  The chart above ilustrates that production in the EU has peaked (implying an insufficiency of viable woodland).



EU-27 - pellet consumption Source: based on FAOSTAT and Eurostat
Strong increase in use of pellets within most EU member states - primarily for heat.



EU-27 imports of pellets (& other HS4401 customs code products)
(to 30 04 2024)
Source (based on): Eurostat
Bans against imports from Russia and Belarus helped reduce the impact of EU27 consumption outside the EU.  EU27 pellet imports are now largely dependent on contested imports from USA, notably Enviva (at risk of bankruptcy and litigation).
 

graphs/usapelletexportsbyportweight
USA's exports - by customs district (to 31 05 2024)
Source: based on USITC Trade Dataweb (code 440131) and Drax plc publications. 

Exports to all major markets - even Japan - in decline?  "Peak pellets?"
The decline in exports to the UK reflects a loophole in CfD subsidies.  Instead of dispatching electricity to help overcome shortages of methane ("natural gas") and thereby minimise acute hardship amongst people unable to pay a surge in prices for gas and electricity, the two biomass burning power stations did not operate their CfD-subsidised generating units when market prices exceeded the strike price (obliging their owners to pay government the excess revenue the owners received).  One customer - Drax - (dependent on subsidies) in one country - UK - has burned most of the USA's exports of wood pellets.  Exports to Netherlands are rising (subsidies having become available) but are flat to Belgium and Denmark (reflecting capacity and subsidy policy);  Exports to Japan are increasing rapidly - Japan copying ill-motivated UK and EU subsidy policy.  Drax' fourth & final unit started operating in 2018; EPH Lynemouth operating since 2019 (like Drax, power only & <40% efficient).
The UK government's adviser - the Climate Change Committee [page 14] - highlights that subsidies for unabated use of biomass as fuel in large-scale power stations should not continue after they expire (- 2027 for three of the four Drax units). During 2022, roughly 40% of the pellets burned by those four units were supplied by Drax Group enterprises.  Most of the remainder will have derived from Enviva (whose share price has, for unfavourable reasons, greatly declined during the last year or so).

 


Canada's exports  (to 31 05 2024)
Source: based on Statistics Canada (code 440131) (April and May 2024 exports to UK from BC identical - an error?)

Continued decline in exports from BC - is the end (for Drax and Japan) nigh?
The triumph of ambition (remuneration incentives and the need to convey the appearance of momentum) over due diligence in Drax' acquisition of Pinnacle and subsequent expansion in BC? The steep decline in exports from BC to UK reflects greater profit available to Drax under its contracts with markets in Japan, than supplying Drax power station from BC.  This suggests that Drax (which dominates pellets supply in BC) has a substantial competitive advantage over Enviva in supplying those markets.  Drax supplied - to countries other than the UK - almost 1.5 million tonnes of pellets from Canada.  Increasing costs due to wildfire (in part a consequence of the unsustainability of supposedly sustainable forest management practices) threaten long-trerm exports frpm British Columbia.

Canada's exports of sawnwood of coniferous species  (to 31 05 2024)
Source: based on Statistics Canada (code 4407.1x.xx)

This chart illustrates the decline in availability of sawmilling residues - supposedly the predominate raw material in the pellets which Drax exports from British Columbia.  The pellet industry helps sustain the commercial viability of sawmilling industries (implicitly tending to compound forest-degradation, carbon emissions and loss of sequestration).

 

 
Drax' biomass feedstock 
Source: based on Drax plc Annual Reports (various years) 8.0 million tonnes of wood pellets burned at Drax during 2022
Note 1: "low grade roundwood" may be a euphemism for logs from  trees of no commercial interest to sawmills, perhaps deriving from clear felling (self-evidently unsustainable).  This proportion supplied under this category is increasing.
Note 2: "sawdust and saw mill residues" might include roundwood delivered to a sawmill which the mill does not transform. Sawmilling and related clear felling and thinning would be less commercially viable if pellet mills do not procure this category of feedstock.


Republic of Korea's imports
Source: based on Korea Customs Service (code 440131) - to 31 05 2024

Note increase in imports from Russia and - significantly dampening enthusiasm for the (global) market, a flat current trend.  


Republic of Korea's imports  (- import value per unit of weight)
Source: based on Korea Customs Service (code 440131) - to 31 05 2024
  Note large price premium for pellets from Canada; the increase in peaks and troughs might reflect general inflation.

 


Japan's imports

Source: based on Trade Statistics of Japan (code 44013100)  [01 01 2016 to 31 05 2024]
Risking energy security, roughly half Japan's imports of pellets are supplied by controversial entities in Canada (Drax) and USA (Enviva) Imports in overall decline, shipments received during May 2024 were particularly low.

 


EU28 imports from outside the EU28 - weight
Source: based on Eurostat (CN8, monthly, codes 44013020 and 44013100), and Drax plc publications
Assumes 7.1 million tonnes burned by Drax during 2020.

 


Intra-EU28 imports of wood pellets
Source: based on Eurostat (CN8, monthly, codes 44013020 and 44013100)

 

 

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.[-][-][-][-]


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


EU28 imports from outside the EU28 - import value
Source: based on Eurostat (CN8, monthly, codes 44013020 and 44013100)

Trade in pellets from the Baltic States to the UK
Source: based on Eurostat (CN8, monthly, code 44013100)
Remarks: the discrepancies might be attributable to re-exports (pellets from other countries exported through Estonia and Latvia)

 


Estonia's exports of pellets, wood fuel, chips and wood residues
Source: based on Eurostat (CN8, monthly, codes 440131, 44011*, 44012*, other 4401*) to 31 07 2023
Remarks:  Ørsted's Asnæs CHP station started burning chips during 2020

 


Latvia's exports of pellets, wood fuel, chips and wood residues

Source: based on Eurostat (CN8, monthly, codes 440131, 44011*, 44012*, other 4401*) to 31 12 2022

 


Denmark's exports of pellets, wood fuel, chips and wood residues

Source: based on Eurostat (CN8, monthly, codes 440131, 44011*, 44012*, other 4401*) to 30 06 2023
Remarks: the great majority of the pellets reported as exports by Denmark are not reported are probably re-exports, not least because the leading destination countries for those pellets report negligble quantities of pellets as imports from Denmark.


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 science 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)

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