Is the U.S. Torrefaction Market Moving?

By Anna Simet | February 22, 2013

Having followed progress of the U.S. torrefied wood pellet market for the last several years, it’s safe to say that progress hasn’t exactly been quick.  Five years ago there was a lot of buzz and proposals, but it soon fizzled, likely a result of the start of the recession.

A couple of years ago, I was writing an article on the status of the market here, and for it I spoke with a university that was interested in using torrefied wood pellets in lieu of coal. After some successful tests it put out a purchasing request, and unfortunately, the bid went unanswered. The energy director at the university simply said, “We’ve found out that there’s just no supply.”

So fast forward to a couple of years later. A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine received a message from a man who was looking for torrefied wood supply, but had come up empty handed when looking for commercially-ready volumes. While that’s a little disappointing to hear, there are some big things happening in torrefaction here, and I believe the market is moving forward.

For example, just this week, Thermogen Industries signed a letter of intent with the Eastport Port Authority in Eastport, Maine, to build a 200,000 to 300,000-ton torrefied wood pellet manufacturing facility on land adjacent to the port’s Estes Head Terminal. Following completion of engineering and site design, Thermogen aims to formally begin the permitting process with a goal of starting construction as early as possible in 2014. In Millinocket, Maine, the company already has a fully-permitted project that work on began in October.

Down in Mississippi, New Biomass Energy just reported it had made a third shipment of torrefied wood pellets—4,000 tons—to Europe. The company is working on expanding its plant to commercial scale—150,000 to 200,000 tons—and expects the project to be complete this year.

Finally, Oregon-based HM3 Energy has reached several milestones in the las few years, including completion of a 50,000-ton demonstration-scale torrefied briquette facility, and construction commencement of a small commercial plant.

While Europe continues to be well ahead of us in regard to torrefaction, the market here appears to be progressing.

In the April issue of Biomass Magazine, staff writer Chris Hansen will dig into the U.S. torrefaction market, and I am confident he will be able to shed some light on what’s really happening. Stay tuned.