Tag Archives: Biomass

What are pellets made of and how to shop for them?

Pellets are a biomass fuel that is used in pellet stoves and boilers. Unlike the cordwood burned by woodstoves, pellets are a manufactured fuel source that consists of biomass byproducts such as sawdust, wood chips, waste paper and agricultural waste. Pellet ingredients are bound together by pressure and heat instead of glue, as in a manufacturing plant, then sold in 40-pound bags at local hardware stores or by the ton from a manufacturer.

There are several places in Fairbanks to purchase pellets by the bag. Two types of pellets are manufactured in Oregon by West Oregon Wood Products and are made predominantly from Douglas Fir, a tree found in the Pacific Northwest. The other type is made locally at Superior Pellet Fuels in North Pole, consisting of approximately 90 percent spruce gathered from local businesses, including Windstorm Salvage Timber Sales and Northland Wood Sawmills. The remaining 10 percent consists of cottonwood and aspen sawdust and scraps from timber harvests in the Interior.

All pellets are refined by manufacturers to be uniform in size, density, moisture and energy content. However, pellets made by different manufacturers will have different characteristics because of the variety in raw materials and manufacturing processes. For consumers to compare the basic characteristics of pellets from different sources, the Pellet Fuels Institute (www.pelletheat.org) has developed standards for pellet fuels sold in the United States. Manufacturers send their pellets to a third-party lab for testing and pellets are classified into three categories, depending on the standards that the pellets consistently meet.


PFI Utility Pellets

• bulk density of 38-46 lbs. per cubic foot

• ash content 6 percent or below

• moisture content

10 percent or below


PFI Standard Pellets

• bulk density of 38-46 lbs. per cubic foot

• ash content 2 percent or below

• moisture content

10 percent or below


PFI Premium Pellets

• bulk density of 40-46 lbs. per cubic foot

• ash content 1 percent or below

• moisture content

8 percent or below


Both types of pellets available in Fairbanks exceed the PFI Premium Standard. The West Oregon Wood Products lists the specifications for its pellets on its website (www.wowpellets.com/fuel-pellets/wood-fuel-pellets/91-fuel-pellet-specs). They have a density of around 42 pounds per cubic foot, an ash content of 0.3 percent and a moisture content of 6 percent. Superior Pellets also made a testing report available for this article — they send sample pellets from the manufacturing plant each week to Twin Ports Testing in Wisconsin to ensure they continually meet Premium standards. Superior’s pellets have a bulk density of approximately 44 pounds per cubic foot, moisture content of 6.5 percent, and 0.5 percent ash content.

When purchasing pellets, homeowners should consider bags that meet PFI Premium standards as these pellets have a higher Btu content because of their low moisture and higher density. For pellets not labeled as meeting the standard, consumers should research the moisture content, bulk density and ash content when deciding which brand to purchase.

Is a pellet stove right for me?

First firing of the pellet stove at the UAF Sustainable Village, which serves as a backup heater in the northwest house.


Pellet stoves are a relatively new wood heating appliance, similar to wood stoves in concept but they have automated operation and burn processed biomass.

Pellets are manufactured from compacted sawdust, wood chips, agricultural crop waste, waste paper and other materials. They can also be made from biomass fuels such as nutshells, corn kernels, sunflowers and soybeans. Pellets are about 1 inch long and look like rabbit food. The pressure and heat created during production binds them together without the need for glue. Pellets are manufactured in Alaska, including at Superior Pellet Fuels in North Pole, and are available at local hardware stores and by delivery from manufacturers.

How it works

Stoves are designed to heat a space directly. The stove consists of a combustion chamber, ashtray and flue to vent exhaust gases. In a pellet stove, the flue can be direct-vented through a wall, meaning that no chimney is required. Pellets are stored in a hopper near the stove. The hoppers come in various sizes, but generally can hold enough pellets for the stove to run for more than a day.




Pellet stoves use electricity to run three motorized systems:

  • A screw auger feeds pellets into the fire at a controlled rate
  • An exhaust fan vents exhaust gases and draws in combustion air
  • A circulating fan forces air through the heat exchanger and into the room

The motorized systems are controlled by a control system and allow pellet stoves to operate automatically.

Pellet stoves do not have a distribution system. The fire inside the combustion chamber causes the stove to warm up and radiate heat throughout a room. Pellet boilers are available that use a hydronic distribution system.


As with other wood-burning devices, pellet stoves require frequent maintenance, yet less than a wood stove. The stove should be inspected regularly. Also, the hopper must be filled and the ashtray should be emptied on a weekly basis (though this depends on the size of the hopper and ash tray and the frequency of use).

Additionally, the stove should have a yearly check-up. Heating professionals can check that the doors, gaskets, electric connections and seals on the stove are in good condition. They can also check the chimney for creosote, rust, and corrosion.

Efficiency Range

Pellet stove efficiency ratings are published by manufacturers. The efficiency ratings combine electrical efficiency, combustion efficiency (a measure of the heat produced from burning fuel), and heat transfer efficiency. Efficiencies can range from 78–80%. More efficient stoves lose less heat up the chimney and deliver more heat into the home.

For more information on home heating devices check out these resources:

–Consumer Guide to Home Heating:


–Your Northern Home: http://cchrc.org/yourhouse

Coast Guard looking at heating with wood in Alaska

From The Associated Press, Thursday, October 28, 2009:

The Coast Guard’s plan to move away from oil-fired burners and toward heating with biomass could provide a lift to the timber industry in Southeast Alaska.

Projects are being considered in Ketchikan and Sitka that would convert building heating systems to biomass boilers that burn wood chips. That would provide a local market for processed wood made from Tongass National Forest timber.

Robert Deering, with the Coast Guard’s Civil Engineering Unit in Juneau, said Southeast Alaska is the first place the Coast Guard has considered using biomass energy. Last year’s spike in oil prices partially drove the decision to support it, he said, but a new directive from President Barack Obama revived the project. Obama signed an executive order this month that mandates environmentally friendlier federal buildings.

Click here for the full story.

A "green" green lawn

From the New York Times, published on April 1, 2009:

In honor of spring and the ongoing quest for the perfect lawn, the Green Home asked Bill Duesing, an educator with the Northeast Organic Farming Association, a nonprofit group devoted to sustainable farming and gardening, for tips on achieving an attractive yard without wreaking environmental havoc.

Click here to read the whole article.

Alaska biofuels list

While meandering along a garden(ing) path through the Internet, I came across a great publication produced by the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the State of Alaska Plant Materials Center. It’s called “Alaska Biofuels Past, Present and Future” and includes a short history of the use of plant materials for fuel; a succinct definition of the relevant terms, some “how to” information for crop propagation and a list of “future hopes.”

You can read the whole document here.

More clean energy tax credits for homeowners

From the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office, posted on 2/18/09, retrieved on Friday, March 6, 2009:

President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 on February 17, and the tax section of the act provides greater tax credits for clean energy projects at homes and businesses and for the manufacturers of clean energy technologies. For homeowners, the act increases a 10% tax credit for energy efficiency improvements to a 30% tax credit, eliminates caps for specific improvements (such as windows and furnaces), and instead establishes an aggregate cap of $1,500 for all improvements placed in service in 2009 and 2010 (except biomass systems, which must be placed in service after the act is enacted). The act also tightens the energy efficiency requirements to meet current standards. For residential renewable energy systems, the act removes all caps on the tax credits, which equal 30% of the cost of qualified solar energy systems, geothermal heat pumps, small wind turbines, and fuel cell systems. The act also eliminates a reduction in credits for installations with subsidized financing.

Click  here to read the whole posting, and to link to additional Federal documents.

CowPots provides innovative use for manure

From the New York Times on Friday, February 26, 2009:

. . . ‘Cow poop is cow poop,’ admits Ms. Slupecki, who was feeling some frustration at the paucity of workable suggestions by the time they reached dessert and coffee. Half in jest, she blurted, ‘Can’t you guys do something with this stuff — make a flowerpot or something?’

Those were fateful words for brothers Ben and Matthew Freund, second-generation dairy farmers who at the time maintained a herd of 225 Holsteins in East Canaan. Each cow produces 120 pounds of manure daily. Why not grow flowers and tomatoes from cow flops? It took eight years’ development, a $72,000 federal grant secured through Connecticut’s Agricultural Businesses Cluster, and countless grim experiments. Now their manure-based CowPots — biodegradable seed-starting containers — are being made on the farm and sold to commercial and backyard growers who prefer their advantages over plastic pots.

Click here to read the whole story.

Land dispute may delay Fairbanks alternative energy project

From the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on Monday, February 2, 2009:

Businessman Bernie Karl said he’s ready to move ahead with a prototype power system: A small-scale energy plant he’d link to indoor food production and biofuel cultivation.

The project — which he said he started eyeing a few years ago — has drawn recent interest from public officials and researchers looking to ride Karl’s coattails.

The original plan — for a 400 kilowatt, carbon-neutral, co-generation, vegetation and waste-paper-fed energy plant between Fairbanks and North Pole — carries the prospect of benefitting from a proposed agriculture project on 600 acres nearby.

Click here to read the whole article.

Southeast Alaska companies exploring wood pelletizer

From Sealaska Corporation (www.sealaska.org), dated September 11, 2008 and retrieved Tuesday, September 23, 2008:

Sealaska Corporation and Viking Lumber Inc. announced today that they have entered into a Letter of Intent (LOI) to examine an alternate energy supply enterprise utilizing wood waste for Southeast customers. Production facilities will be on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast, Alaska. 

“The use of woody biomass as an alternative energy source remains largely untapped,” said Ron Wolfe, Sealaska natural resources manager. “With diesel and fuel costs continuing to rise, it’s vital that we investigate alternative sources of sustainable energy.  We believe that wood biomass is a promising alternative.”

Click here to read the whole press release.

Are we being "bamboo-zled?"

From the Washington Post, Sunday, September 21, 2008:

Bamboo seems like an environmentalist’s dream come true. It’s a self-regenerating plant that grows so fast (without pesticides and with little water) that it’s considered a weed, and it can be used to make products from furniture to coffee filters.

But bamboo, like most things marketed as “green” these days, isn’t perfect. First of all, much of it comes from Asia, so the carbon footprint of shipping it here is not insignificant. And though bamboo absorbs carbon, there is concern that, especially in China, demand for bamboo is leading to the clear-cutting of old-growth forests.

Click here to read the whole article.