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Chile: Emerging Wood Pellet Industry
- Sep 13, 2018 -

" Most wood pellet plants are small, with an average annual output of about 9,000 tonnes. Only about 29,000 tons of particles were produced that year.After wood pellet shortage problems in 2013 when only around 29 000 tonnes was produced, the sector has shown exponential growth reaching 88 000 tonnes in 2016 and is projected to reach at least 190 000 tonnes by 2020 ".

Chile gets 23% of its primary energy from biomass. That includes wood chips, a fuel widely used for home heating, but also affects local air pollution. In recent years, new technologies and cleaner, more efficient biomass fuels, such as wood pellets, are making progress at a good rate.Dr Laura Azocar, a researcher at the University of La Frontera, provided insights into the background and current state of the granular production market and technology in Chile.

According to Dr. AZOCAR, using wood as the main source of energy is a characteristic of Chile. This is related to Chile's traditions and culture, as well as its rich forest biomass, the high cost of fossil fuels, and the cold and rainy winter in the south-central region.

1. A forest country

The first mention is that Chile has 17.5 million hectares (ha) of forest at present: 82 percent of natural forests, 17 percent of plantations (mostly pines and eucalyptus) and 1 percent of mixed species.That means that despite the country's rapid growth, which currently has a per capita income of $21,000 a year and a life expectancy of 80 years, it remains underdeveloped in home heating systems.

In fact, 81 percent of the total energy consumed by heating comes from firewood, meaning that about 1.7 million households in Chile now use the fuel, and the total annual consumption of wood is over 11.7 million cubic meters.

2. More efficient alternatives

Chile's air pollution is related to high consumption of firewood. Fifty-six percent of the population, or nearly 10 million people, were exposed to less than 2.5 bouts of particulate matter (PM) per cubic meter.About half of the PM2.5 is caused by the burning of firewood, which is caused by a number of factors, such as poorly dried wood, low furnace efficiency and poor household insulation.

In recent years,the improvement of Chile's education level has accelerated a new understanding of a society that has begun to show requirements related to conservation of its natural heritage and the environment.

In summary, the rapid development of research and advanced human capital have enabled the country to address these challenges by finding new technologies and fuels to address existing household heating needs. One alternative is to produce particles.

3. Convert the stove

Chile's interest in particle use began around 2009, during which time it began importing pellet furnaces and boilers from Europe. High import costs, however, prove a challenge, and progress is slow.To promote its use, the environment ministry launched the cooking range and boiler conversion programme for the residential and industrial sectors in 2012. More than 4,000 devices were installed in 2012 as a result of the switch, and the number has tripled since then. Set up some local appliance manufacturers.

4.Not only wood pellets

Chile's granules come mainly from Pinus radiata, a common planting variety. In 2017, 32 pellet plants of different sizes were distributed in the central and southern parts of the country. Most pelletizing plants are small, with an average annual output of about 9,000 tons. Only about 29,000 tons of particles were produced that year, after a shortage in 2013. The industry grew exponentially in 2016 to 88, 000 tons and is expected to reach at least 190, 000 tons by 2020,  said Dr. Azocar.

Despite the abundance of forest biomass, this new "" sustainable" "Chilean society has attracted the interest of entrepreneurs and researchers looking for alternatives to producing dense biomass fuels. Many national research centers and universities conduct research in this area.

At La Frontera, which is at the heart of BIOREN science and is linked to the chemical engineering department, a screening method has been developed to identify local biomass sources with energy potential.

4. Hazelnut husk and wheat straw

The study has determined that the hazelnut shell as the biomass has the best burning properties. In addition, the wheat straw stands out because of its high availability and the environmental impact of habitual practices of crop burning and stubble burning. Wheat is the main crop in Chile, with an area of about 286,000 hectares and produces about 1.8 million tons of straw every year.

For hazelnut shells, although the biomass can be burned directly, research has focused on its use in particle production. The reason lies in the challenges of producing solid biomass fuels that adapt to local realities, and public policies that lead to replacing wood stoves with wood pellet furnaces to deal with local air pollution.

The results have been encouraging, with preliminary results showing that, according to ISO 17225-1 (2014), these particles conform to the parameters of wood pellets.

Carbonization tests have been carried out on wheat straw to improve some properties of the biomass, such as irregular size, low bulk density and low calorific value.

Carbonation is a heat treatment at moderate temperatures in an inert environment, specifically for the optimization of agricultural residues.Preliminary results showed that the retention energy and calorific value increased significantly under medium operating conditions below 150 C.

According to the European Standard ISO 17225-1 (2014), the so-called black particles produced in a pilot scale with the carbonated biomass were characterized.The results were favorable, due to the carbonization process, the apparent density increasing from 469 kilograms per cubic meter to 568 kilograms per cubic meter .

Future challenges aim to find technologies to reduce the content of trace elements in carbonized wheat straw grains to achieve products that can enter the domestic market and help solve environmental problems affecting the country.