Interview with the Head of Association Martin Bentele on wood pellet quality in Germany: "We are a perfect example."
Head of Association Martin Bentele sees ENplus certified trading companies for wooden pellets such as Raiffeisen Bio-Brennstoffe GmbH as a good reference point. They guarantee supply reliability using proactive stocking. Trade own brands such as "RPellets" are an important instrument for customer loyalty.
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- Speaking with Oliver Korting (right), Managing Director of AGRAVIS Group Raiffeisen Bio-Brennstoffe GmbH, Martin Bentele, Managing Director of the German Pellet Institute (Deutsches Pelletinstitut) and the German Wood Fuel and Pellet Association (Deutscher Energieholz- und Pellet-Verband), takes a look at the current wood pellet market.
Raiffeisen Bio-Brennstoffe GmbH is making an exclusive interview available with Martin Bentele, Managing Director of the German Wood Fuel and Pellet Association (Deutscher Energieholz- und Pellet-Verband e.V., DEPV) and the German Pellet Institute (Deutsches Pelletinstitut GmbH, DEPI). The qualified forester is also a voluntary board member at the Federal Association for Renewable Energy (Bundesverband Erneuerbare Energien e.V., BEE) and has been the chairman of the proHolz Bayern board of trustees since March 2017. Raiffeisen Bio-Brennstoffe GmbH is a subsidiary of AGRAVIS Raiffeisen AG.
How do you see the wood pellet market in 2017?
Martin Bentele: If we ask market players then we have an increase of between 5 and 10 per cent so far compared to last year at Kesselzubau. 2016 was already weak so 2017 will also not be a particularly successful year. We are suffering from the fact that energy changes in the heating market are not moving forward in the right way.
Why is that?
Bentele: There are no professional groups locally who can persuade people to change to renewable heating sources. The majority of heating manufacturers are fully occupied with their everyday business and these are primarily fossil fuel heating sources and baths, and there is no pressure on them to deal with the matter.
Can the additional 33,000 pellet-burning stoves still be attained in 2017 which were forecast at the beginning of the year?
Bentele: We expressed cautious expectations from the outset. We therefore assume that we will achieve this aim. This figure also includes pellet stoves. We even had 33,000 new pellet heaters per year a few years ago. We must aspire to obtaining an increase every year, heading towards an amount of 50,000, so that business develops well.
Consumers who are thinking about changing their type of heating commonly question the supply reliability of wooden pellets. Could you dispel these concerns?
Bentele: Definitely. The largest wood reserves in Central Europe are found in German forests. We also have the most saw mills as a result. This means that: Most round timber is cut in Germany and consequently most sawmill residues is produced here – 6 to 7 million tonnes a year from wood chips and sawdust alone. As a comparison: We produce around 2 million tonnes of pellets in Germany each year. There is also a lot of room to grow here.
Is trade doing enough to guarantee supply reliability to the user?
Bentele: The qualified traders, and these are generally ENplus certified companies, understand the importance of storage in autumn for supply reliability and trade on this basis. Problems occur at traders who sell pellets on the side without any strong commitment to this, but then shout loudly if they are poorly stocked due to their own short-sightedness.
Do you consider legally prescribed stocking to be useful, like for mineral oil production?
Bentele: If I had to come up with a policy: "Forcing us to ensure supply reliability using rules" would be inadequate. I am sure that our competent sales staff can counter any problems alone – without political pressure. Sufficient stocking is also a basic aspect for a good trader. In the event that this does not work, contrary to expectations, then requirements within the ENplus certification would need to be used to help.
There are attractive public grants for pellet heating. But only a few consumers know about these, and these grant guidelines are also difficult to understand. How do you see these?
Bentele: There are certainly ten per cent of users who have a broad overview of the grant context and consult a specialist for specific questions. But most do not even know about the possibilities available. In some areas in Germany, it is possible to receive reimbursement of around half of the investment costs, using federal, state and municipal grants. The problem is: We do not have a professional group which wants to pass this news onto the consumer. This is the key point. There are good heating manufacturers who deal extensively with the topic and know a lot about renewable energy, but there are still far too few of them. From the beginning, policies have also neglected to publicise the grants that they have established. There is a reason we say: Do some good and talk about it.
What is the pellet quality standard like?
Bentele: I think that we have created something good with the producers and the trade industry. With the ENplus seal, we have a standard with a whole quality-focused area behind it, and which covers the whole supply chain. The high quality in which the pellets are produced is the high quality in which they reach customers’ basements.
Which role does homogeneous length distribution of the pellets play?
Bentele: A very large one. Unfortunately, neither the ISO standard nor ENplus requirements take the requirements for length distribution into account so far, although they have considerable importance for logistics and burning behaviour. Firstly, we need a recognised measurement method to set a limit value. We are currently preparing the standardisation of an optimal method. In terms of progress, we are not yet as far as we could be for the individual important pellet properties such as mechanical strength. The spread at ENplus A1 is still too great compared to international standards. In this case, German pellet production is reaching strengths of over 99 per cent. We are a perfect example in this case. Other markets are changing, specifically within the standard, but there is still room for growth.
How would this affect the German market?
Bentele: It would be possible to consider introducing an A1plus category which German producers could meet without any additional effort. We will try to promote this if desired.
Many trade companies are choosing own-brand pellets. What significance does this have for the wooden pellet market?
Bentele: I do think that a brand is an important instrument for customer loyalty. It improves the trust between the trader and their product. People no longer quickly change supplier to save 10 euros. The interaction between trade own brands and ENplus certification is working very well.
The German Pellet Institute is currently involved in assigning the ENplus standard to wood briquettes too. How far on are they with this?
Bentele: We have taken up the cause of modern wood energy as a whole. It must meet quality, comfort and low emission requirements. Pellets do this and wood briquettes do this too. The large number of stoves in Germany means that they have a future, and they offer clear advantages in comparison to logwood heating, for example with the emissions. We have a certified product ready as a replacement which has good brand potential for if this is further regulated in the future.
Back to the pellets: When will the wooden pellet market improve after the rather poor years in 2016 and 2017, and what needs to happen for this?
Bentele: I cannot predict that. We have a market-ready product, which offers the consumer a similar convenience to fossil furnaces, but can save enormous amounts of CO2 – and is also very economical too. Given this, I am convinced that the energy transition on the heating market with pellets will come. Whether that will be in 2030 or sooner, I cannot say. We will of course do everything we can so that it happens as soon as possible.