Email Print

Demand for wood pellets could fuel S.C. manufacturing

Staff Report
Published Dec. 12, 2012

The wood pellet industry in South Carolina is starting to pick up steam with one plant ramping up production and another about to be built.

When both facilities are operating, South Carolina will have the capacity to produce about 700,000 tons of pellets annually.

Related coverage

Enova Energy to build wood pellet plant in Edgefield County
Lowcountry Biomass to expand Jasper County facility

Still, South Carolina is “a relatively small player in the export market,” said Hakan Ekstrom, of Wood Resources International, headquartered in Bothell, Wash.

There’s potential for growth in the manufacturing of wood pellets as some countries in Europe are searching for ways to trim carbon emissions in fueling base-load power generation. Also, countries like Germany plan to shut down commercial reactor units in the wake of safety issues raised by the nuclear accidents at Fukushima.

To meet the rising demand wood pellet manufacturing has expanded in the South, helping make the United States the largest exporter in the world.

With continued investments throughout the southern United States, export volumes are forecast to reach 5.7 million tons in 2015, up from 1.5 tons expected to be produced this year, according to the North American Wood Fiber Review, a publication of Wood Resources International.

It’s estimated that pellet production will at least double over the next four to five years, and some forecasts project 25-30% in annual growth globally over the next decade.

Wood pellet exports in the South rose 13% in the second quarter of 2012 over the amount reported for the first quarter despite temporary slowdowns at facilities in Florida and Georgia, due to fires at a U.S. port and at a pellet consumer in the United Kingdom, the publication said.

Lowcountry Biomass has invested $16 million into expanding its existing wood pellet plant in the Jasper County community of Ridgeland.

The expanded facility, which will have the capacity to produce 200,000 tons of pellets annually, will begin round-the-clock operations in the first quarter of 2013.

Meanwhile, Atlanta-based Enova Energy Group plans to build a network of three pellet plants in Georgia and South Carolina.

The first project will be constructed in the Edgefield County town of Trenton, off S.C. Highway 121. Work will begin sometime during the first quarter of 2013.

The Enova plant will produce wood pellets to be used as a renewable fuel for export to the European Union under long-term contracts with public and private utilities.

Each of Enova’s new facilities annually will produce 500,000 tons of wood pellets by 2014.

The pellets from the Edgefield plant will move by rail to the Port of Savannah and shipped overseas.

The major source of material for pellets is saw mill residue, followed by chips, tree bark and roundwood. The wood fiber material is dried and then pressed through a die, producing pellets 6 to 8 millimeters long or about the length of the first digit of a human finger.

South Carolina appears to have plenty of material to make pellets.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, S.C. mills in 2011 produced 9 million tons of wood residue that either wound up being burned as waste or dumped in landfills.

Forestry is the state’s No. 1 manufacturing industry, providing more than 90,000 jobs and an annual payroll of $4.1 billion, the S.C. Forestry Commission reported.

The state exports $1.1 billion in forest products each year, and timber is South Carolina’s No. 1 cash crop with annual revenues of $784 million.

About two-thirds of South Carolina, or 13.1 million acres, is covered by forest.