Monday, April 22, 2024

Wood pellet data is vital to understand contribution of pellet heating in America

 The Alliance for Green Heat submitted a public comment on the EIA's Densified Biomass Fuel Report earlier today. The EIA was gathering comments on a proposed three-year extension on the report along with specific questions on its function and use.

"The Alliance for Green Heat (AGH) would first like to thank the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) for giving the public an opportunity to submit comments on the proposed three-year extension to Form EIA-63C, “Densified Biomass Fuel Report.” As a national nonprofit that advocates for the reduction of fossil fuel heating through the responsible and sustainable use of wood and pellet heat, we are deeply invested in the outcome of the EIA and DOE’s decision to continue to collect data on pellets.

Summary: The EIA does not need to collect more information from pellet manufacturers. However, it does need to publicly release much more of the information it is gathering.

It is important for policymakers, environmental organizations, and the public to have a far more accurate understanding of the differences between how utility pellets are made, how premium heating pellets are made, and the carbon impacts of how they are used. Utility pellets have biodiversity, equity, and carbon impacts that are more serious than premium heating pellets based on their feedstock, the size and location of their manufacturing plants, and the enormous amount of waste heat that is lost when making electricity. Data gathered by the EIA provides some of the underlying metrics to understand those different impacts.

Wood pellets are an excellent low-carbon heating fuel for homes, businesses, and institutions. They will likely become an even greater complement to heat pumps in the future, based on the different pros and cons of each heating pathway as our energy grid seeks to keep up with increasing electric demand. Wood pellet production and use are also extremely important for better understanding air quality and whether states and air quality agencies have been able to increase the percentage of pellet stoves compared to wood stoves. Also, EIA data from their housing survey, part of the Residential Energy Consumption Survey, shows that wood pellets serve many very low-income homes. The 2020 data shows the income bracket with the highest reliance on pellet stoves compared to wood stoves is the $10,000 - $19,000 household income bracket. This makes wood pellets very relevant to the energy equity community.

Our industry and stakeholders have become used to seeing top-level data such as the wood pellet production capacity by region, overall production of heating vs. utility pellets, and domestic vs. foreign pellets. But to really appreciate the various roles this industry plays in providing renewable heating in America, we should all be versed in more granular detail.

For example, it is very important for government agencies, pellet stove manufacturers, pellet fuel distributors, retailers, and consumers to know the volume of:

• PFI certified domestic heating pellets made year-by-year,

• Non-PFI certified pellets made year-by-year if the percentage of bagged vs. bulk domestic heating pellets is trending up or down,

• Utility pellets used domestically,

• ENPlus A1 or A2 bulk heating pellets are made in the US (these would likely be bagged in Europe for residential distribution), and

• Compressed bricks, compressed logs, and briquettes made, year-by-year.

The EIA could also provide more detail about where wood comes from. It provides summary, top-level data, but we believe there is more data available that does not infringe on confidentiality.

A breakdown by state also tells an important story of pellet production in the United States. North Carolina, the top producer of industrial pellets for export, makes nearly as many pellets as the bottom 20 states combined - which produce heating pellets.

Response to EIA questions:

1. In response to the invitation to comment on the following statement: “(a) The proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of agency functions, including whether the information will have a practical utility,” AGH would like to highlight the value that the Densified Biomass Fuel Report provides to hundreds of stakeholders in the renewable energy space who need this information to assess the capacity of this sector. The data provided through the reports helps track trends in pellet production and increases the ability to produce accurate, science- based assessments on pellet heating. Without the Fuel Report, organizations would lose one of their most reliable and unbiased information sources on pellet data.

In the energy transition landscape that our nation is currently undertaking, being able to account for, and have accurate information on, all forms of renewable energy is paramount. If our nation’s leading agency on energy information is missing data and research on a large, mainstream, and established renewable energy source like biomass, the agency is failing to carry out its mission.

2. In response to the invitation to comment on the following statement: “(c) EIA can improve the quality, utility, and clarity of the information it will collect,” AGH would like to suggest that the EIA publish more of the data that it collects. Assuming no confidentiality conflicts, we believe publishing all gathered “Product Type” information is essential (e.g. amount of “Wood Pellets Premium (PFI certified) Bagged,” Wood Pellets Premium (PFI certified) Bulk”, etc.). Similarly, publishing data on “FeedStock Type” (e.g. “Roundwood,” “Sawdust,” “Waste Wood,” etc.) would be helpful when explaining to policymakers and the public the different supply chains in the pellet industry. This is particularly important for policymakers and the public to differentiate how heating vs. utility pellets are made. This would also provide industry and organizations with a clearer vision of the current capacity of biomass for heating, helping provide decision- makers with valid, data-driven information. Because this information is already gathered in the monthly reports, this would not add any time burdens on the pellet manufacturing companies.

Wood is a diverse and vital renewable energy source for America. Many Americans do not seem to know that up until 2015, wood produced more renewable energy than any other renewable source. Since 2016, biofuels have been the top producer, but the intensive process of converting solid biomass to biofuels sharply reduces its carbon benefits.

Many Americans may also be surprised that wood still produces more renewable energy than hydroelectric solar and geothermal combined. As recently as 2015, wood produced more energy than hydroelectric, solar, geothermal, and wind combined. It is a vital part of America’s transition to renewable energy to know that the use of wood as a renewable energy has been relatively stable but shrinking since 1985, and the amount of solar and wind energy has been rapidly growing. Part of this story is understanding and managing all the different feedstocks that go into wood energy - mainly pellets, wood chips, and wood logs.

The EIA can do a better job using the data that it collects from pellet manufacturers to tell a more detailed story about wood pellets made in America and pellet heating in America."

Monday, April 8, 2024

Alliance for Green Heat and USDA Forest Service partner to expand national network of firewood banks using local, renewable energy to assist low income households

AGH, April 8, 2024 - Alliance for Green Heat is making over $1 million available to expand and connect the nation’s network of firewood banks thanks to a grant from the USDA Forest Service made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Firewood banks, similar in approach to food banks, provide a local, renewable and cost-effective heating source to households in need. 

Firewood banks can start applying for funds on May 1. Banks that have already received funding can apply for renewable grants on September 1. 

The program is intended to help firewood banks expand, be sustainable, deliver seasoned wood and improve safety practices. 

The Census Bureau estimates 1.9 million U.S. households use wood or pellets as a primary heat source. In rural areas, about 25% of homes use wood as a secondary heat source. In tribal communities, wood is often the primary heat source for the majority of households.  The top wood heating states, in order, are Vermont, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Idaho, New Hampshire, Oregon and West Virginia. 

Forest Service Chief
Randy Moore

“Firewood provides a local, renewable source of heat for so many families across our country, especially in tribal communities,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and our partners at Alliance for Green Heat, we are able to support the network of firewood banks that are providing lifesaving aid by ensuring more families can access the firewood they need.” 

Funding mostly goes to purchase tools, chain saws, splitters and protective safety equipment. Most firewood banks receive free logs from towns, tree trimmers, loggers and other donors but some have to purchase logs. They largely rely on volunteers to cut, split, season, and deliver firewood to local households who have run out of firewood and cannot afford to buy more.

Most communities in the United States have excess wood which is thrown away. An important source of firewood comes from efforts to remove material from forests that could potentially fuel a destructive wildfire, like dead or dying trees. 

In its first two years, the grant program funded 80 firewood banks in 24 states. 31% are operated by, or primarily serve, tribes, 19% by faith-based organizations and 47% by non-profits, towns, or community groups, and 3% by businesses.  During the first two year of the program, firewood banks produced more than 20,000 cords of wood to about 20,000 homes. On average, each firewood bank produces more than 200 cords per year, with many western tribal firewood banks leading the way producing 500 to several thousand cords. Nationally, the Alliance for Green Heat has identified more than 150 firewood banks and scores more are likely active. 

Volunteers prepare wood for thousands 
of homes in nearly every US state.
“Firewood is ‘the people’s fuel’, used by rural households who can’t afford fossil fuel, or are trying to be less dependent on it,” said John Ackerly, president of the Alliance for Green Heat.  “It is and always has been an affordable way to reduce fossil fuels and back up heat pumps but the challenge is using it without producing too much smoke.” 

As of May 1, existing wood banks who served households last winter and start-up firewood banks can apply for funding.  Firewood banks seeking a second, renewal grant can apply starting in September. For more information about firewood banks and to apply for funding, visit

About the Alliance for Green Heat

The Alliance for Green Heat promotes modern wood and pellet heating systems as a low-carbon, sustainable and affordable energy solution. The Alliance works to advance cleaner and more efficient residential heating technology, particularly for low and middle-income families. Founded in Maryland in 2009, the Alliance is an independent non-profit organization and is tax-exempt under section 501c3 of the tax code.