Wood Bio Conference:

Past, Present And Future

The fifth Wood Bioenergy Conference & Expo held April 11-12 in Atlanta, Georgia was perhaps the most enjoyable yet. That’s because the information exchange combined the past, present and future, and you walked out at the end with a real understanding of the industrial wood pellet industry—where it’s been, where it is, where it’s going.

This Wood Bio Conference was the first one where there was this feeling that the industry has been around long enough to indeed have a past. We’re not talking about the fact that it was 20 years ago when the first industrial wood pellets were exported out of Canada, as much as we’re talking about the 10 years it has been since the first industrial wood pellet plant started up in the Southeast U.S. Given that the number of plants in the Southeast is now approaching 20 made this conference the opportune time to look back at lessons learned in those 10 years.

Several presenters touched on that subject, none more entertaining than Harold Arnold, president of Fram Renewable Fuels, whose company it was that started up that first plant in 2008—the first of three mills the company now operates today.

Arnold’s bottom-line message was that starting up an industrial wood pellet business is not for the weak of heart, and when you think you have it figured out, you probably don’t. But if you like constant challenges and don’t mind changing course in mid-stream, come on in. The moderator of that session said Arnold reminded him of Bear Bryant, the former Alabama football coach, who moaned and groaned his way to multiple national championships. “You paint a bleak picture,” the moderator said to Arnold, “But you keep building pellet plants.”

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From Left: Jessica Johnson, Associate Editor; Dan Shell, Managing Editor; Jay Donnell, Associate Editor; Rich Donnell, Editor-in-Chief; David (DK) Knight, Co-Publisher/Executive Editor; David Abbott, Senior Associate Editor

Several presentations addressed the impact the industrial wood pellet industry has had on forest management in the Southern U.S. And the message here was that the industry has strengthened the wood supply chain, not only providing markets for landowners, in-woods chipping operators, sawmills and pellet producers, but bringing in a strong commitment to forest sustainability that calls for pellet producers to put their forest operations data on the table for literally the world to see.

Many speakers pointed to positive attributes such as forest sustainability, carbon dioxide reduction and the enhancement of rural community economies as some of the ingredients of a very compelling story that industry representatives should do a better job of taking to the media and public officials. If traditional wood industries (such as pulp and paper) have been inclined to play close to the vest, the industrial wood pellet industry is all about transparency. Very refreshing.

Perhaps our favorite part of the conference was the look into the crystal ball of worldwide industrial wood pellet demand into 2025. Several speakers, citing several sources including their own studies, basically said there’s more demand to come from Europe, though not at the amazing clip we’ve seen in recent years, but it’s Asia, and in particular Japan and South Korea, that will catapult the industry to another level of demand.

Our extensive coverage of the conference presentations begins on page 18 and runs on for 10 pages or so. Once we started writing about it, we couldn’t stop, because there was so much great information we felt obligated to not leave out, though we know we still did.

Biomass and bioenergy conferences and expos are still in abundance worldwide—there were three in Aprll—but the Wood Bioenergy Conference & Expo always rises to the top because it has the best speakers from the leading producer companies and the subject matter in its sessions is the most timely and prevalent.