The wood pellet is one of the fastest growing renewable energy sources in the world today, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The pellets, made from sawdust or scraps of soft-wood trees, are increasingly being burned with coal in European plants to help meet European Union renewable energy standards. According to the Journal, “the pellets are a pricier fuel than coal, but burning them is a less-expensive way to generate electricity than using windmills or solar panels.”
U.S. interest in wood pellets is low. But many believe interest will grow in the next few years as utilities are forced to meet state (and perhaps federal) renewable energy standards.
So how exactly do wood pellets help meet the standards?
Biomass products including wood and cocoa bean shells (more on this in a minute) emit CO2 when burned. However, the emissions are offset by the CO2 the products absorbed while growing. Additionally, the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere in burning would eventually have been released even if the material was not burned. For example, CO2 would be emitted when a tree dies and decomposes. So there is what some in the industry call a “net gain of zero” when using biomass energy sources.
Now for the cocoa bean shells…Earlier this year, Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) used a similar idea and tried a different fuel source: Cocoa beans shells.
In an experiment conducted in March, PSNH teamed with chocolate maker Lindt USA and burned a mix of one part crushed cocoa bean shells with 33 parts coal. The test was done at PSNH’s Schiller Station plant.
Currently, cocoa bean shells are in short supply since the Lindt USA plant is importing chocolate blocks from Lindt facilities in Europe. However, next year Lindt USA expects to produce its own chocolate, which will generate an ample supply of shells (if there is a need for them).