Pellet Standards In Place

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In doing so, the standards will also challenge some subpar operations that have cropped up to serve a growing market, yet are cutting corners with low-grade feedstock and high moisture contents that deliver poor performance. Up until now, one pellet manufacturing executive says, it seemed every bag on the market had some kind of “premium” label on it.

As an aside, it’s interesting to surf the pellet stove owner chat rooms on the Internet, where consumers trade all sorts of advice on stove operations and the best pellets on the market. Reading their comments, it doesn’t take long to realize that consumers want to be able to rely on accurate labeling instead of lowest prices, and the new standards should clear up much customer confusion on the retail floor.

Perhaps the biggest boost the standards will provide is a bolstering of renewable fuels in general, as the domestic resident/commercial wood fuel pellet industry continues its transition from backwoods fuel suppliers years ago to mainstream home and commercial heating fuel producers today.

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From Left: Dan Shell, Western Editor; David Abbott, Senior Associate Editor; David (DK) Knight, Co-Publisher/Executive Editor; Jennifer McCary, Senior Associate Editor; Rich Donnell, Editor-in-Chief

Soon, as Lignetics President and CEO Ken Tucker says in the cover story on page 18, consumers can rely on the PFI labeling instead of outlandish marketing claims, and know exactly what kind of fuel to look for per their wood stove owner’s manuals. And any wood pellet stove manufacturer that receives a complaint can respond by asking if PFI-certified fuel is being used in the stove and go from there.

The new standards stem from the EPA’s effort to certify wood pellet stoves for performance, which includes fuel standards. In 2010, the PFI responded to EPA’s suggestions for standards, and the biggest change is the establishment of a third-party testing and compliance process that includes an accredited auditing structure and on-site inspections to verify compliance. The PFI has already developed and made available four downloadable documents for producers that describe the complete program, including standard specifications, the certification process, a quality control and assurance handbook, and standards enforcement and oversight regulations (visit www.pelletheat.org and click on “Standards”).

According to Chris Wiberg of Twin Testing Laboratories, a member of PFI’s Standards Committee, the organization is circulating a “pledge letter” among members and producers stating they support the standards and plan to get on board the accreditation process as soon as testing services become available. Already, more than 20 companies representing more than 30 mills have signed the letter, and Wiberg believes another two dozen or so companies are on the verge of signing.

Response from the EPA has also been favorable, and Wiberg hopes consumers will be seeing some PFI labeled product in the stores later this year. “This year is just the start for us,” he says. “Hopefully, within two years almost all bags will be labeled.”

As more pellet users find better consistency and performance for their heating systems, the wood bioenergy industry takes an important step forward.