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Reap the Benefits of the PFI Standards Program

Two years ago, the Pellet Fuels Institute kicked off its standards program to foster improvements in the consistency and quality of pellets manufactured in North America and to help consumers better understand what they are purchasing.
By Jennifer Hedrick | March 26, 2014

Two years ago, the Pellet Fuels Institute kicked off its standards program to foster improvements in the consistency and quality of pellets manufactured in North America and to help consumers better understand what they are purchasing.

This program is gaining momentum:  More manufacturing facilities continue to qualify for the program and others are on the road to qualification. 

What does that mean exactly?

Qualifying companies have worked with the program’s third-party auditors to establish—and comply with—a quality assurance and control (QA/QC) program that meets the rigorous requirements of the PFI Standards Program. Once qualified, companies are able to use the program’s quality mark—a label for their fuel bags that indicates their product has not only been subject to the program’s testing requirements, but it meets them.

We recently came across a blog post by a consumer, saying: “As the biomass pellet industry has matured, the need for a third-party rating system that communicates information about pellet quality is more important now than ever.” He has a point.

In the past, there has been confusion about what the various wood pellet designations mean:  how exactly is “ultra premium” or “super premium” any different from “premium”?

Like those of us in the PFI office, I’m sure many of you have fielded calls over the years from consumers asking for help understanding these differences in terminology.  Labeling with the quality mark will help that—in fact, we’re already starting to hear from consumers who are noticing the mark and appreciate its clarity.

It’s not just about the label. Simply going through the qualification process can tell a manufacturer more about a product than ever thought possible. One company qualifying in the program learned it needed to make a small tweak to bagging procedures, a discovery estimated to save $100,000 per year in production costs—the process has already more than paid for itself. This company is not alone; other qualifying companies I’ve spoken with have similar stories about learning more about their business and improving their business practices. 

Enrolling in the program remains optional, though the entire pellet supply chain is keeping a close eye on the U.S. EPA’s newly proposed rule that seeks to revise the New Source Performance Standard for new residential wood heaters, including pellet stoves. As proposed, in order for stoves to be certified, they must be tested with pellets that meet a series of requirements that have been verified through an established  QA/QC program, such as the PFI Standards Program. 

This rule will have a real impact on how the pellet industry does business.

If  you’re a pellet manufacturer, I encourage you to start  investigating how your facility can enroll in the PFI Standards Program. Joining the program is, by necessity, a rigorous process—but it’s completely doable, as many manufacturers have already demonstrated. It’s best to start with a thorough read of the program documents, which are found in the standards section of the PFI website. There’s a lot to consider when enrolling in the program. And, we’re happy to help with questions, as is the American Lumber Standard Committee, the program’s oversight body.

There’s still a lot to do to make the PFI Standards Program more widespread—to encourage more pellet producers to sign on and to work with retailers so that they can both understand and communicate the program’s benefits to consumers. You’ll hear from us more on that in the months to come.

Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done—but this is an opportunity for us all to raise the bar for the pellet industry.

Author: Jennifer Hedrick
Executive Director, Pellet Fuels Institute
Hedrick@pelletheat.org
703-522-6778

 

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