Bioenergy Insight 2017: Q&A session with FutureMetrics’ William Strauss

The Bioenergy Insight Conference, a world-leading bioenergy event, will be held in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 4 and 5 October 2017, covering the whole bioenergy supply chain. The show will focus on all the new developments and the latest challenges.

Topics covered in the seminars include the global biomass market, financing bioenergy projects and ensuring sustainability at scale.

The debut event will be co-located with the Biofuels International Conference 2017, which is in its tenth year.

Major names including National Grid, Fram Renewable Fuels, Enviva, Scania and Green Investment Bank will be at the conference.

Among them will be William Strauss, president of FutureMetrics. He shares his thought on the bioenergy industry below.

  • What role can bioenergy play in the low-carbon economy?

FutureMetrics is an independent consultancy that specialises in wood pellets.  Most wood pellets are produced from sustainable renewing sources and are carbon neutral in combustion.  As with any fuel that has to be produced, refined, and transported, there are fossil fuels used in the supply chain.  However, unlike fossil fuels, the carbon released from the combustion of wood pellets is absorbed contemporaneously by the renewing resource.  As long as the stock of carbon held in the forests is not depleted, i.e., the harvest rate does not exceed the growth rate, there is no net new carbon added to the atmosphere from using wood pellets for heat and/or power.  Therefore, substituting wood pellets for heating fuels or for coal for power generation is a critical part of a low-carbon economy. 

  • What will the policy and operational landscape look like in 2018 in the US?

We are not optimistic that the US will make much progress in carbon emissions mitigation under the current administration. The US and Canada will continue to lead the world in the production of certified sustainably produced wood pellets.  But all of the industrial wood pellets produced in the US and most from Canada will be exported to countries that have policies that support and incentivise lower carbon emitting heat and power.

  • What is the next trend of the industry?

As noted above, we are specialists in wood pellets; therefore, FutureMetrics pays careful attention to potential supply-side developments in the wood pellet sector.  The “white wood” pellet has been the standard for decades.  The development and deployment of so-called “black” pellets has been very slow. The statistics tell the story: about 15-16 million metric tonnes of white pellets will be used in power stations in 2017 whereas only one power station running only a few days a year will use about 7,500 tonnes of black (steam exploded) pellets.  While pellets produced using the steam explosion technique are able to be stored outside and exposed to rain and snow with no loss of structural integrity, to date, the economics have not been compelling enough to compete with white pellets.  That may be changing.  FutureMetrics is currently engaged in deep due diligence on one of the established technologies. Our analysis will be completed by October 2017. The next trend may be to water-resistant black pellets.

  • What is set to be big for bioenergy for the rest of the year?

The continued growth in significant demand for industrial wood pellets from Japan and South Korea in 2017 is very good news for an industry that can see the end of demand growth in Europe and the UK by the early 2020’s. The potential for policy that supports wood pellet co-firing in Canada and Australia’s coal power stations would also be big news for the industry. 

  • What represents the biggest threat for bioenergy?

The biggest threat is uninformed decision makers and environmental NGO’s not willing to engage in rational dialogue. The efficacy of using wood pellets for heat and power generation is clear if one understands working forest dynamics, the value of independent certification for the sustainability of the working forests, and the need to have thermally generated economically competitive green power to provide baseload. There is no other on demand renewable generation pathway that yields a lower cost per avoided tonne of CO2. Co-firing or full-firing wood pellets in plants already built and designed to use pulverised coal is even a lower cost per avoided tonne of CO2 than from a new natural gas combined cycle power plant. Not understanding the grid supply shortcoming of full reliance on intermittent and variable wind and solar generation, and misrepresenting the carbon benefits of using upgraded renewable solid fuel to replace coal can wrongly influence policy.

  • What is the next thing industry should do more of?

The industry is already working hard to counter the misinformation promulgated by NGO’s with an agenda focused on opposition rather than collaboration to find workable solutions.  We all understand the need to decarbonise the power sector: the goal is to eliminate fossil fuels from that sector. But it cannot be done in just a few years and it cannot be totally reliant on wind and solar generation.  The substitution of pellets for coal in power generation starting at modest co-firing ratios and gradually, in selected plants, increasing to full conversion to pellets has to be part of what we have coined as a rational and pragmatic off-ramp to a decarbonised future. There are of course limits to the supply of sustainable feedstock for producing the pellet fuel.The industry associations such as the Wood Pellet Association of Canada and the US Industrial Wood Pellet Association work very hard to help policymakers understand the value of the sector.  More has to be done to help the general public learn about the economic, ecological, and environmental value of the wood pellet sector.

Strauss will be speaking on Day One at 2.15pm of the Bioenergy Insight Conference & Expo 2017. He will be talking about the “mapping the supply chain’  

Register now for Bioenergy Insight Conference & Expo 2017 for two days of essential learning to network with experts, sharpen your bioenergy knowledge and improve your skills, on 4-5 October.



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