EU: Imports of wood pellets booming again in 2013

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The European Commission recently presented the 2030 policy framework for climate and energy, where expectations are that by 2030, the share of renewable energy will be of at least 27%. In this respect, the recent years European policies on biomass have driven consumption of wood pellets up to new records every year.

For example, consumption of pellets in the European Union increased almost 4 times from 2006 to 2013 (from 4,6 million tonnes, up to 16 million in 2013). Based on the targets set by the European authorities, some forecasts, like the one of the European Biomass Association (AEBIOM), predict that by 2020 consumption of wood pellets in the EU will reach 50-80 million tonnes. 

In Europe, there are two main drivers that support this spectacular forecast. First there are the conversion plans from coal to biomass of large power plants, especially in the UK. And second, the efforts of many European countries to increase the share of renewable energy in their heating sectors. 

On these two facts, demand is quite divided in the EU: the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium have opted to meet part of their renewable energy obligations by the use of biomass for the generation of electricity. Therefore, these three countries are mainly using pellets for power plants. Conversely, in Germany, Austria, Italy, France and Sweden, wood pellets are mainly used in small-scale private residential and industrial boilers for heating. In Denmark, which is the second European wood pellets consumer (after the UK), pellets are used both in small boilers in private homes or medium-sized district heating plants, but also in large combined heating and power (CHP) plants. 

One thing is clear: with the new renewable energy targets set by the European authorities, some of the EU countries will become dependent on imports, as production has slowed down since 2010 and is now around an estimated (2013) 10 million tonnes (9,2 million t in 2010). 

Thus, imports boomed again in 2013 and grew in volume by 32% as compared to the previous year, passing the 10 million tonnes mark, and reaching 11,05 mil. tonnes. In value, the increase is of 32% (EUR 1,66 billion). 

In 2013, imports from the domestic market (intra-EU trade) picked up by 26% (up to 4,8 million tonnes. Latvia covered 20,6% of all imports and is the main European source of imports, followed by Estonia (12,15% share), Portugal (11,13%) and Germany (8,95%). 

Imports from outside the European Union (extra-EU trade) came mostly from North America. As in recent years, the upward trend of imports from Canada and the United States continued with a 51% rise in volume (4,6 million tonnes) and 45% in value (EUR 669,6 million). In volume, purchases from the US grew by 57% (2,76 million tonnes), while those from Canada by 43% (1,9 million tonnes). 

US is by far the largest source of pellets for the European market with a 25% share of the overall imports. Canada is second with 17% and Latvia comes in third with a 9,13% share.

Wood pellets imported by EU from... (in tons )

TOP Origins

2012 2013 Change in %
  EUROPEAN Union
3,863,134 4,879,062 26 %
  Latvia
769,570 1,009,553 31 %
  Estonia
401,928 592,836 47 %
  Portugal
371,544 543,435 46 %
  Germany
514,562 437,016 -15 %
  Austria
354,530 395,114 11 %
    Others
1,451,000 1,901,108 31 %
  OTHER European Countries
1,250,613 1,426,833 14 %
  Russia
642,054 701,758 9 %
  Bosnia - Herzegovina
67,815 170,389 151 %
  Ukraine
217,428 164,644 -24 %
  Croatia
136,197 146,967 8 %
  Belarus
112,055 115,650 3 %
Others 75,062 127,426 70 %
  NORTH America
3,110,630 4,687,310 51 %
  USA
1,764,394 2,766,223 57 %
  Canada
1,346,237 1,921,087 43 %
TOTAL 8,362,932 11,055,483 32 %

Source: Eurostat. HS Codes: 440131,44013020

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