Pellets - stock photo © Martina Nöstler

Pellets are on the upswing again

Article by Günther Jauk, translated by Susanne Höfler | 23.02.2018 - 18:32

Compared to 2016, boiler sales in Austria increased by 18% to 5,100 pc. (systems up to 100 kW) last year - a development that industry experts expect to continue in 2018.

In Germany, the number of sold pellets furnaces increased by 3.5% totaling 32.300 pc. (woodburners and boilers). Industry representative Martin Bentele from the German Wood Fuel and Pellet Association (DEPV), however, is by no means satisfied with this growth rate. His aim is to sell 100,000 additional units per year - as long as pellet consumption is more affected by weather conditions than by boiler annexes it will not be possible to leave the niche.

Italy as a major market

With 1.225 million t, Austria reached a new production volume peak in 2017. Compared to 2016, the value increased by 14.5%. Apart from a higher domestic consumption of pellets (+9% to 980,000 t), this was mainly due to a strong increase on the Italian market. In 2017m, 590,000 t of pellets (+18%) crossed the Brenner pass.
Apart from increasing demand, proPellets manager Dr. Christian Rakos identifies changes on other markets as a possible reason. The volumes produced in the Balkan countries have been increasingly used domestically - furthermore, adverse weather conditions (wet forest soil) lead to delivery problems from Baltic countries in 2017. In total, Austria exported 665,000 t.
At their foreign sites, domestic timber industries produced 910,000 t, 440,000 t of which were imported to Austria. 82,000 t came from Germany (Binder, Pfeifer), 190,000 t from Romania (Schweighofer) and 120,000 t from Czech Republic (Mayr-Melnhof). All things considered, this rendered an export surplus of 225,000 t.
In Germany, the sector also reached a record value of 2.25 million t produced pellets, which is 15.4 % more than in 2016. In comparison to the previous year, consumption increased 5% to a total of 2.1 million m³.

Space for further large-scale projects

The production capacity of the 43 Austrian sites is 1.6 million t. A new addition of 2017 is the company Y-Pellets in Gars am Kamp. With a target annual output of 50,000 t, the Yamuna subsidiary that was co-financed with a fund of the British holding company Downing would be one of the biggest producers in Lower Austria. Furthermore, the enterprise is already planning a second site in Weitra. Contrary to what is common in Austria, the enterprise is processing industrial timber.

Rakos does not consider this concentration problematic especially in view of the growing export market. A more nuanced opinion can be found amongst Timber-Online readers. The Question of the Week "Does the DACH region (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) offer enough space for new large-scale pellets productions", 33% said "Yes" and 50% said "No".

At the moment, the capacity exceeds production by 375,000 t. Industry representatives also do not see problems concerning the raw material. A study by the Vienna University of Technology on the issue of decarbonization showed that despite the fourfold increase in biomass boiler installations to an annual quantity of 40,000 pc., fuel consumption could drop slightly until 2050. In this scenario, pellets consumption however would double while the usage of piece goods would decrease. More than half of the Austrian building space could consequently be heated with biomass in the future.

According to the president of the Austrian Biomass Association Dr. Rudolf Freidhager, even with such a massive promotion of biomass, only around a third of the sustainably available additional bioenergy potential would be utilized.