Complete Guide to Wood Pellets: How to Get Them & the Uses

Complete Guide to Wood Pellets

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Wood pellets are an important component of our ecosystem and environment. We need to be able to manage and harvest pellets in an eco-friendly way.

Complete Guide to Wood Pellets: How to Get Them & the Uses

Wood pellets have become important for the energy transition, as they represent the easiest and fastest way to replace coal in existing power generation stations.

Wood by-products are not only being used in bulk to substitute fossil fuels at large scale but also as heating means in household and business places.

Controversy has arisen regarding wood pellets.

They are indeed a renewable source of energy, but their sustainability is extremely subjective regarding their source and origin.

Whatever the case, pellets burn more cleanly than wood and produce lower air pollution than log burning.

Wood stoves are becoming popular as means of home heating. No surprise, since pellets cost is cheaper than other types of wood fuel, making pellets emerge as an option for commercial and industrial heating.

However, pellets are not only made to be burned, they are also made for animal bedding.

Different grades of wood pellets

The variety of uses lead pellets to be produced according to different standards and qualities.

When pellets are destined to be burned, the percentage of produced ash is a relevant property. Yet the ash production is out of the picture when they’re used for animal bedding.

Wood Waste Pellets for Fuel Uses

Wood pellets for fuel use are also divided into different grades. The highest standard and most expensive are known as Premium Pellets, typically produced from waste sawdust coming from timber production.

To be considered high grade, pellets must comply with certain requirements:

  • The moisture content must be below 10%
  • Ash content equal to or below 0.7%
  • Good mechanical durability with low fines (little dust).

You can test the quality of pellets by applying a horizontal force to break the wood. If the pellet is high quality it will cleanly crack with very fine lines.

Difference between high quality pellets and low quality wood pellets
Difference between good quality and poor quality pellet. Source:https://www.pelheat.com/wood_pellets.html

The governing wood pellet trade association in the US, the Pellets Fuels Institute (PFI), classifies pellets into three grades within its certification:

  • Premium
  • Standard
  • Utility

They all have the same diameter and length, but differ in certain properties, which are shown in the table below:

Different Wood Pellets Grades and their differences. Source:https://www.pelheat.com/wood_pellets.html

A high ash content within the pellets means that you will have to clean your stove more frequently. That’s a reason why such are cheaper to purchase.

Wood Pellet for Horse and Animal Bedding

There are not specific pellets for animal bedding. Nonetheless, it is absurd to go for premium quality wood pellets with low ash content if they are not meant to be burned.

The advantage of using pellets for animal bedding and horses lies in the higher absorbency of wood pellets when compared to sawdust or straw. That way, the bed does not have to be changed so frequently.

Being this the case, you can purchase loose wood pellets with either Standard or Utility grade according to the PFI certification.

How are wood pellets made?

Pellets are made from lumber by-products, like sawdust, wood chips, wood shavings, small logs and furniture making leftovers.

If not pelletized or used for other purposes like biochar, or upcycled products, such material would otherwise end up as waste in landfills.

Pellets manufacture follows these steps:

Chipping / Crushing:

The first step consists of bringing the feedstock into an even particle size.

Thus, the material goes through a grinding process, where it is cracked into smaller and even pieces or woodchips of around 5 mm diameters.

Drying:

Since the raw material contains around 40 – 45% moisture, it goes into a dryer that lowers that moisture level to around 8-12%.

If the moisture level of the wood fiber is higher than the expected, the presses downstream can get clogged. Also, excess moisture will brake pellets apart once it evaporates, which is undesirable.

Initial sieving:

This is done to separate contaminants, like stones and metal particles away from raw wood materials.

If not done, contaminants will induce mechanical failure of mills. This is mostly done in large plants.

Grinding:

After sieving or drying, further milling comes next. The woodchips are reduced to wood fiber that will enter a row of presses that will produce the pellets.

Material reduction during pellets manufacture
Material reduction during pellets manufacture

Pelletizing:

Presses or Pellet mills are the machines that ultimately produce the pellets as we know them.

The pressing process generates heat. That heat added to the pressure exerted extracts the tree sap, or lignin, contained in the wood fibers.

Lignin acts as a natural adhesive that keeps the pellets in shape.

See Related: Waste-to-Energy Overview

Cooling:

Once they come out of the press, they are still warm, sticky and easily deformed.

Cooling makes pellets gain rigidity and dries out the lignin, so they don’t cluster into a ball of pellets.

They are inserted into a cooler for around 15 minutes.

Final sieving

In commercial pellet plants, they are sieved to separate fine leftover particles from the structured pellets.

Fines from this stage are burned in the dryer for heat.

Once the process is done, they are stored in silos for bulk delivery or packed in bags for retail selling.

Wood pellets production process
Wood pellets production process

Purchasing wood waste pellets

Wood pellets stove beginners might start getting pellets in small amounts, like 20 lb. bags. Yet, since you already got that pellet burning stove, it is better to consider other options that will save you money and trips to the store.

Then, why not thinking about purchasing pellets in bulk?

That will get you a better deal than those recurring trips to the store, and you will save the plastic bags!

Reducing plastic waste

The standard home will require around 4 – 5 tons of wood pellets annually. That is a lot of plastic bags!

When you opt by ton delivered wood pellets, you will get rid of all of that plastic. You won’t be to blame for that terrible plastic in our oceans either.

Especially, because most of the plastic used in those bags are not easily recycled.

Plastic and Wood Pellets Delivered by the Ton
Save the plastic bags and go for delivered by the ton pellets

Of course, having wood pellets delivered by the ton will require to count on storage means.

Storing bulk wood pellets

Consider to count on storage space, a silo or a barn, where you can accommodate at least 150% of your wood pellets needs.

Why so?

Well, pellets prices fluctuate in time, just as petrol or other fuel. If you have a large storing space you can take advantage of those times when the pellets are at their cheapest and buy as much as you can store.

This will save you some money when prices are up and you ran out of pellets.

How much do pellets cost?

Well, as you might imagine, it depends.

Normally, bulk deliveries give you a reduced price per ton compared to bagged wood pellets. That price reduction rounds between 25 – 50%.

When you go for ton delivered wood pellets, rates will depend on the amount of pellets purchased, shipping address and delivery option. You could also pick them up if you have the means to.

See Related: Important Pros and Cons of Biofuels

The more, the cheaper

Wood pellets price is sensitive to the amount of pellets you can receive. The more pellets you can receive the cheaper it is. It means that the larger your storage capacity, the better it will be in the long run.

Bear that in mind when you think about designing and building your storing space.

Price variation resilience

Also, when you go for the wood pellets delivered by the ton, you are more resilient with regards to the price variation.

Since pellets price oscillate according to demand and supply, with a large storage capacity price variation will be no minder.

If prices are low and your silo is running out of juice, then go for that low price and stock it up!

The figure below shows updated prices for you to have an idea of their cost in the US.

Bagged and bulk delivered wood pellets price comparison.
Source: https://www.nh.gov/osi/energy/energy-nh/fuel-prices/wood-pellet-prices.htm

As you can see, it is better to go for the non-bagged delivered pellets. So, go plastic-free make the environment cleaner and your pocket happier.

Where to buy wood pellets near me

Pellets are widely available. They can be purchased on the internet, directly from the manufacturer, hardware stores, farm stores, supermarkets, petrol stations, and any other business-related stores.

However, depending on what presentation of wood pellets you want, packed in bags or unpacked, wholesale or retail, delivered or pick-up, you will have to reach one place or the other.

If you are looking for one bag of pellets, you will find them almost everywhere. But, if you are rather going for wood pellets ton delivered, do not expect to find them at the supermarket. Unless that particular store happens to be allied with a pellet manufacturer.

Going for the wood pellets delivered by the ton option to your home or commercial site, you will have the chance of selecting your shipping and delivery.

The supplier will contact you and plan the logistics according to your convenience.

See Related: Best Books on Renewable Energy

How efficient are wood pellets stoves?

Well, EPA certified wood pellets stoves are within the range of 70 – 83% efficiency range. They are highly efficient due to the use of pellets and the small amount of particles they emit to the air.

Wood pellets burn cleaner than fossil fuels, and they occupy less storage space than wood logs.

Woodstove pellets do also burn more efficiently and cleaner than logs.

Wood pellets stoves can be used as a support heating system to the main home heater or can also be used as the primary system.

If you were to substitute your fossil running heating system by a wood stove pellets one, your new heating system diagram would look something like this:

Wood Pellet Lifecycle
Wood pellets stove heating system diagram

Pellet stoves can be electronically controlled with an automated feed system and modular burner. That way you can adjust the amount of burning pellets inside to adjust the temperature to that of your comfort.

How environmental friendly are wood waste pellets?

If you are looking for ways to break free from fossil fuels dependence, then wood pellets are one option for you to start the transition.

However, there are certain considerations to keep in mind if you are looking towards a clean and fair transition.

Start by making sure your pellets come from sustainable sources and practices.

There is growing evidence of certain pellet manufacturers to be involved in the destruction of virgin forests to cope with the growing pellet demand.

And you don’t want to be a forest destruction supporter, do you?

How can wood burning not be green?

Just so you know, if you cut trees down to make pellets, you are not cleaning up the air. Instead, you are promoting CO2 release into the atmosphere. In that case, of what good is it to have a pellets stove, then?

To find out more about this, check this other article out on the advantages and disadvantages of biomass.

This said, make sure the pellets you are choosing to heat your home or business come from waste wood that is being revalorized.

Serious and sustainable manufacturers make sure to post on their websites where their pellets come from. So, take your gadget and find that information before reaching your supplier.

It is extremely important that you do.

Sustainable pellet production

Sustainable practices as you might imagine, include using waste wood biomass for pellets production. Contrarily to felling CO2 absorbing trees to be burnt in a pellet stove.

Waste wood biomass is derived from other processes, like furniture manufacture, building industry, and forest management. These industries end-up with waste woody biomass that is revalorized by making pellets, for instance.

See related: What is the California BioMAT Program

For instance, some manufacturers make their pellets from waste wooden pallets.

The shipping industry utilizes millions of wooden pallets every year. At some point, they get damaged or broken. If they are no longer recyclable or repairable, they are discarded.

In the worst scenario, those discarded pallets end-up in landfills. In the best scenario, that material is seized for energy purposes, which includes pellets production amongst other energy products.

If not used for pellets, other sustainable products include biochar.

Biochar is another product that has numerous uses in agriculture and water treatment.

Also, wood byproducts are more environmental friendly if you make sure they are not being transported from the other side of the country, but instead they are locally produced and sourced. Make sure to check that out as well.

Related Resources

Related Terms

Green Coast is a renewable energy and green living community focused on helping others live a better, more sustainable life.

We believe that energy and green living has become far too complex, so we created a number of different guides to build a sustainable foundation for our future.

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2 thoughts on “Complete Guide to Wood Pellets: How to Get Them & the Uses”

  1. This guide on wood pallets is the best one I have read on the internet so far! Thank you so much for sharing all that here, it really helped me in learning detailed information about the wood pallets!

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