With a full spectrum of products that includes paper and packaging, wood pulp, lumber, veneer, chips, mulch and more, the forest products industry in North Carolina is one of the strongest, contributing more than $29 billion to the state’s economy and supporting more than 144,000 jobs. Wood pellets are an important part of the state’s diverse forest products portfolio, and North Carolina’s forest landowners benefit from the additional markets created by wood pellet production.
Europe’s Energy Source
Dr. Clay Altizer, a registered forester with the North Carolina Forest Service, says most of the wood pellets produced in North Carolina are exported to European utility-scale power plants for electricity generation.
“These pellets are ground into wood flour and injected into furnaces for power generation,” Altizer says. “Using wood pellets as an alternative energy source has afforded many European utility companies an opportunity to reduce, and eventually eliminate, fossil fuel consumption as part of the European Union’s numerous Green Energy mandates in recent years. Wood, unlike coal, is a renewable resource and is abundant in North Carolina.”
Enviva, the largest manufacturer of wood pellets in the world, operates plants in Northampton County and Ahoskie, and sources from Southeast forests because of the region’s reputation for sustainable forestry practices. Enviva produces more than 2 million metric tons of wood pellets each year for export to power plants in Europe that previously were fueled by coal.
While Enviva is by far the largest wood pellet manufacturer in North Carolina, other players are emerging to capitalize on this growing industry.
Trending Toward Growth
Statesville-based Godfrey Lumber Co., which specializes in engineered logs, eastern white pine, hardwoods, tongue and groove, dovetails, and wood chips, recently began producing pine wood pellets to make use of a processing mill that had been sitting idle.
“The mill costs us even though it might not be running, so we decided to try our hand at wood pellets. We already provide material for the pulp and paper industry, so between the sawmills and the loggers, we’ve already got the supply base to get the sawdust,” says William Godfrey, the company’s vice president. Godfrey runs the family-owned business with his brothers.
“When we were growing up, you could hardly give mulch away. Sawdust was just something that got piled up somewhere. Now, our industry has grown so that we’re utilizing every aspect of the forest.”
Godfrey says the pellets they sell will be used mainly for equestrian bedding and kitty litter, although the company is exploring other markets for pellets, such as home heating, fuel for barbecue grills and propane fuel replacement for poultry farms.
“We also plan to market pellets for heating homes,” Godfrey says. “It’s a cleaner and more efficient energy source.”
Premium pellets have little to no ash content, Godfrey says, so they are cleaner to burn.
“When you burn firewood, you create a lot of ash that has to be cleaned up, versus burning pellets, which is pure heat.”
Altizer says the benefits to the state’s forests are equally substantial. “Healthy markets for all types of forest products create an economic incentive for landowners to keep their land in forest cover instead of clearing it for development. Several pellet mills have located in areas that lack viable markets for low- grade timber. As a result, landowners have the opportunity to receive revenue from selling low- quality wood that might otherwise remain unharvested,” Altizer says.
“Logging businesses and trucking companies have also benefited from increased harvest activity in areas within the procurement radius of wood pellet mills. In addition, clean air, clean water and abundant wildlife habitat are other benefits society derives from active and sustainable forest management.”
Godfrey agrees. “North Carolina as a whole has an excellent record. We want to keep our industry alive, so we support reforestation and sustainability.”