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Wood pellets for biomass.
RENEWABLES
21 December 2015 7:00

UK now burning 33% of world’s wood pellet imports

Simon Evans

Simon Evans

12.21.15
Simon Evans

Simon Evans

21.12.2015 | 7:00am
RenewablesUK now burning 33% of world’s wood pellet imports

The world produced a record 26 million tonnes (Mt) of wood pellets last year, fuelled by increasing demand for renewable power.

Despite record volumes, the UK increased its share of imports to a third of the 14Mt total, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

UK wood pellet imports have risen rapidly as Drax, its largest power station, has progressively converted units to burn biomass instead of coal. UK imports have tripled since 2012 and its share of global trade has risen to 33%, up from 17% in 2012.

Carbon Brief ran an investigation of whether biomass burning is good for the climate earlier this year. Related research for the Department of Energy and Climate Change is now overdue.

Meanwhile, demand for and production of wood pellets continues to increase.

The FAO says output in 2014 was up 16% on a year earlier, reaching a record 26Mt. Europe and north America account for around 90% of this, as the chart below shows.

Global wood pellet production between 2012 and 2014.

Global wood pellet production between 2012 and 2014. Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Chart by Carbon Brief.

Imports were up 19% in 2014, compared to a year earlier. Growth was slower than between 2012 and 2013, however.

EU member states, striving to meet their 2020 targets for renewable energy, have driven increases in demand. Europe accounted for 78% of consumption last year, the FAO says.

The UK, Italy, Belgium and Denmark were responsible for two thirds of imports in 2014. Korea completes the top-five importers, with demand having risen four-fold in each of the past two years.

Global wood pellet imports between 2012 and 2014.

Global wood pellet imports between 2012 and 2014. Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Chart by Carbon Brief.

The rise in biomass burning for electricity generation is viewed with scepticism by some climate researchers, and is blamed by campaigners for forest destruction in the southern US.

It’s worth keeping the rapidly growing trade in pellets in perspective, however. While pellet production volumes in 2014 equalled newsprint, they were more than 100-fold below those for roundwood and traditional woodfuel.

Global wood pellet production in context, 2014.

Global wood pellet production in context, 2014. Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Chart by Carbon Brief.

Main image: Wood pellets for biomass. tchara/Shutterstock.com.
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