There are lots of markets for pellets, not just the standard fuel and animal feed pellets most people use. While niche markets are obviously smaller they can still present a good profitable opportunity especially for small pellet mill machines such as the Mini Pellet Mill. One such market is fish bait and we have sold Mini Pellet Mill’s to clients to produce product for this market. Fish bait can be made from a wide range of materials, and as there is such a wide range of products but a small volume of pellets needed its often a market large pellet plant operators ignore. With a product such as the Mini Pellet Mill you can quickly and easily change product batches and produce small volumes of pellets to meet either market demand or even individual customer demand. For instance we have one client who produces custom bird feed to farmers with specific medication mixed in. Above is a video of one brand of fish bait and the hempseed pellets they sell. The first thing they wish to point out is that their pellets are made from purely hemp seed and not the rest of the plant which is made from fibre and shiv. Other fish bait providers may use the whole plant to bulk out the product, however it does probably make an inferior product as fish bait. As stated the advantage to hempseed pellets as apposed to loose seed is they will keep better and are easier to store. Also they are easier and quicker to break down in the water to attract the fish. Using hempseed for fish bait pellets again provides another use for the highly versatile hemp plant. I often state that as sources of waste wood for premium grade wood pellets are used up we should move to using hemp shiv to produce good quality fuel pellets. Fish bait as a product is something our small pellet plant customers could also consider. During the summer months production of fuel pellets maybe low and alternative products such as fish bait may bring in additional income. With a pellet business its good to have a diverse product range. Thanks for reading please comment.
Hemp other than wood is the best biomass material you can use to produce low ash fuel pellets. Therefore as waste sawdust is becoming more limited in supply we need to be able to grow industrial hemp to provide fuel for pellet stoves, boilers and even power plants. However while hemp can be legally in grown in many places around the world such a Europe (you still require a licence though) the US still has an outright ban on the crop. However it never used to be this way, for instance in World War 2 the US government actively encouraged farmers to grow the crop. However there is a new push to try and get the crop legalized again driven by senators such as Rand Paul and in this video senator Ron Wyden. It’s worth noting that both republican and democratic representatives are behind these amendments. Senator Wyden starts off his presentation by highlighting the economic benefits of the crop, particularly to rural areas. The issues are that a hemp industry does threaten the profits of many other powerful companies which currently have many lobbyists in Washington and they also make significant campaign contributions. Currently Canada benefits significantly from the US law as they export a huge volume of hemp products over the boarder, as the US is the largest market for hemp products in the world. In terms of fuel pellet production the part of the plant we are interested in is the woody shiv. This part of the plant is also used as a building material when mixed with lime. However when used in the building trade the hemp shiv is sieved to remove the dust and smaller particles which they do not want. It is these smaller particles and dust which can then be processed through a hammer mill to produce a consistent particle size and then compressed in the pellet mill. The ash content of these pellets is between 1-2% which is significantly lower than grass pellets which will produce 3-5% ash. This makes hemp pellets comparable to wood pellets, please comment below.
Hemp is an extremely versatile crop and has been grown for thousands of years. Over the past decade the crop has been demonised to suit the goals of various wood pulp and petro-chemical interests, however people are now becoming more aware of why hemp is such an important crop. While it is still illegal to crop the crop in the US, Canadian farmers are happily growing hemp seed and then selling that product in the US market to produce food products and other products such as hemp soap. There are even small niche markets you may not even think of such as hempseed pellets for fishing. However as one Canadian farmer explains in this video they currently have no demand for the fibre or woody shiv of the hemp plant. However this should change in the next few years with Hemp Technology from the UK building a new hemp processing plant in Alberta, Canada. The plant will take in the hemp (after the seed has been harvested) and separate the fibre from the shiv. The fibre can be used for clothes and many other uses and the car industry is starting to take an interest in hemp again. The shiv has a use as a building product. Once mixed with lime the material sets as hard as rock but also has a high insulation value. Its also breathable and maintains a healthy indoor environment at the right humidity. There is another market for the shiv which can be developed, and that is for fuel pellets. The fuel pellet market is currently dominated by premium grade wood pellets, with some niche companies also offering grass and straw pellets. However the waste wood used for fuel pellets is a limited supply and grass and straw pellets produce more ash, clinker and corrosion issues so many stoves and boilers cannot use them. Hemp pellets produce the lowest ash and lowest corrosion of any other biomass beside premium grade wood pellets. Therefore these fuel pellets can be used in most pellet stoves and boilers. Thanks for reading and please leave your comments below.
For the biomass energy industry to grow we also need to encourage other industries to use stainable crops. The waste or surplus from these other industries can then be compressed into fuel pellets. One of the best biomass energy crops is hemp, as it can produce fuel pellets comparable to wood pellets. Hemp has over 30,000 uses, and even the US government during World War 2 produced videos encouraging farmers to grow hemp for the war effort. Even to this day all boot laces used by the US military are made with hemp fibre due to its strength. The founding fathers of America such as George Washington were also hemp farmers, and made it law that you must use part of your land to grow hemp as it was that important of a crop to society. This particular video is from the marketing director of Hemporium in South Africa on the house they have constructed. The walls of the house are made from hempcrete blocks which is mixture of the woody centre of the hemp plant known as shiv and lime. A chemical reaction takes place and a hard construction block is produced that is both light and high insulating. We are currently restoring an old stone cottage and hempcrete will be used as an interior plaster to insulate the building. Hempcrete is perfect for this purpose as it also breaths well, so will not create issues with damp as common plasters do in old buildings. The biggest issues for hemp usage are the law. For instance there is a huge market for hemp products in the US but US farmers are not allowed to grow the crop. Therefore all hemp products are currently imported from Canada or the raw materials are. Even here in the UK and Europe while you can legally grow hemp with a licence, getting one of those licences is not easy at all. Hemp can address many of the issues we face today but until the legal issues are addressed it will remain as a niche product when it could be a large part of our economic solution.
Before you can even consider installing a pellet mill or pellet plant you need a cheap and secure source of raw materials. Those who have access to cheap natural wood waste are privileged as this waste is becoming harder to find. Ultimately there is not enough of this waste anyway to meet the demands of the fuel pellet market and therefore more focus will move to energy crops such as Miscanthus, Switchgrass and Hemp. So how do you plant and harvest these crops? Which equipment do you use? Well for the most part you can use standard farm equipment. Above is a video of a large swather which will be used to harvest the crops in some cases. The crop will be cut down at the front of the machine, its then reduced in size and made into a single row through the back of the machine. This then makes it easy for a baler to come and collect the material. However the moisture content of the material should also be brought under consideration. To make pellets without requiring additional drying you want a moisture content below 15%. Some energy crops can be harvested at this moisture content, therefore baling straight away is a good idea and then keeping the bales under storage until they are ready for the pellet plant. However if the material is not below 15% then conditioning and turning the energy crops or over wintering the crop are options. However while this can reduce the moisture content naturally there are issues with losses due to mould etc, after all if its a very wet winter you could loose the crop. However there is another advantage which is that is can take out some of the unwanted elements that cause energy crops to be more corrosive than wood during combustion. In terms of the harvesting equipment for processing hemp higher quality blades may need to be used as the fibres can dull lower quality blades. In general though harvesting energy crops will be nothing new to most farmers. Thanks for reading a please comment below.
We do not sell pellet stoves and boilers, however we need awareness of pellet stoves and boilers to increase the demand for pellets and thus pellet mills and plants. One of the leading pellet stove manufacturers in the US are Harman. They have been manufacturing pellet stoves for over 25 years and understand the market far more than most. This video provides some of the differences and benefits to a Harman pellet stove. One of the first major differences is the design of the heat exchanger. Normally tubes are used but Harman have decided to use a flat plate design. The advantages are that there is a a larger surface area to capture heat from the exhaust gases and therefore the efficiency of the stove is improved. Secondly the flat plate design is much easier to keep clean than the tube design. Keeping the heat exchanger clean is vitally important if you want a solid fuel heating system to keep performing adequately. The next unique feature on the Harman stoves is their burn pot design. In their design the feed auger comes in at the base of the burn pot and pushes new pellets in and the old ash off the side of the burn pot into the ash draw. Most other pellet stoves use a drop down burn pot. With drop down burn pots the ash is only removed by the combustion fan speed which remains fairly constant. This means that if more ash if produced with certain fuel pellets ash will remain in the burn pot and eventually combustion will stop. This means with a Harman pellet stoves you can burn standard grade wood pellets, grass pellets, miscanthus pellets, hemp pellets etc. As Harman started to make pellet stoves when there were no wood pellet standards they had to make a stove which was more resilient to changes in ash content. Most of today’s new manufacturers just stick to standards such as the ENplus. The problem with standards such as the ENplus is they cannot be applied to most biomass fuel pellets due to the restrictions on ash content. Thank you for reading and please comment below.
There is a wide range of energy crops that can be used for the purposes of fuel pellets. One of the more popular crops is miscanthus. Miscanthus is a giant grass that is not grown from seed but from cuttings from the roots of other plants called rhizomes. Some prefer the idea of rhizomes as it means the crop is not invasive as can be the case with other crops such as Switchgrass. However the issue with rhizomes is that you cannot do crop rotation. Here is a video of the complete process of planting, growing and harvesting Miscanthus. Once a sufficient number of rhizomes have been collected they are loaded onto the equipment on the back of the tractor. A GPS driven tractor then navigates the field and four operators place the individual rhizomes in the feed shoots. As you can see the growth rate of the plant is impressive. Once the plant has died off and the leaves etc have fallen off the crop is ready for harvest. Particularly as a fuel you want to avoid the leaves etc as much as possible as this will increase the ash content of the fuel as well as increase the risk of clinker formations. Miscanthus at harvest has a moisture content between 10-15% which means it can be made into pellets without a dryer been required. In this video the equipment used shreds the miscanthus into fairly small pieces. These pieces can then be loaded into the hammer mill on the pellet plant, no other previous size reduction is required. We commonly use a 5mm screen in the hammer mill for fuel pellet production from miscanthus for the production of 6mm or 8mm pellets. These particles are then transported into the pellet mill. We use peristaltic pumps for water and vegetable oil addition to alter the compression characteristics of the miscanthus within the pellet press die. We also sometimes add 1-2% modified corn starch binder to improve the density of the pellets. The pellets leave the pellet maker very hot so are then cooled before storage. You can see a video of this process of our small scale miscanthus pellet plant installation.
Greenhouses definitely have their advantages, however when it gets cold outside this can be an issue. Some greenhouses use various heating systems including oil and gas however the costs of running these systems can be very expensive. Not to mention the fact that using fossil fuels maybe responsible for accelerating climate change. This greenhouse however is doing something a bit different. They have a hot air furnace that burns grass pellets. The owner states that a 40lb bag of grass pellets usually heats the greenhouse for 24 hours which is pretty efficient and affordable. The grass pellets are fed into the hopper and an auger in the bottom of the furnace feeds the fuel into a bottom fed burn pot. The advantage of this design is the ash produced is just pushed over the side of the burn pot along with any potential clinker formations. In this instance they have to use a blow torch to get the fire going. However in many pellet boilers like ours you have a hot rod igniter, therefore the fire can start on the command of a thermostat. As you can see within just a few minutes the temperature in the centre of the fire has reached almost one thousand degrees. At this particular greenhouse they used to use coal in this furnace, probably anthracite as that would flow through the auger. They are able to source the grass pellets even cheaper than coal and promote their use as part of their green approach. It’s not stated which grass was used to produce the pellets, the most likely biomass would be Switchgrass. However potentially Miscanthus, Reed Canary Grass or maybe even Hemp. You can easily compress field hay into pellets, however they are much more corrosive than grass pellets produced from the materials above. The advantages of making grass pellets over wood pellets is the raw material can be more abundant and you actually get a much better productivity from the pellet mill. Our pellet plant will produce 400 kg/h on grass pellets, 250 kg/h for wood pellets.
There are many types of energy crop you can grow for the purposes of bio-fuels. Each has its own attributes and should be considered depending on the circumstances of the site and the end product. Here is a video from a farmer in Georgia, USA who is cultivating giant miscanthus grass as his chosen crop. They had looked at other energy crops such as Switchgrass and came to the conclusion that miscanthus on a yield basis was superior to the other crops. Part of their focus is the idea that in the future the US could be much more energy independent and not rely on foreign states for gas and oil imports. Their objective for the crop is for it to be used to produce bio-ethanol, however it can obviously also be used for fuel pellets for pellet stoves and boilers. However with respect to our pellet mills and pellet plants the bio-ethanol market is not a competition but another market. Transportation costs of loose chopped miscanthus or even baled miscanthus are far higher than the transportation costs of miscanthus pellets. Therefore each farmer with a sufficient volume of miscanthus could install a small pellet plant on their farm to produce the pellets ready for transportation. We recently installed a small miscanthus pellet plant. So you see the need for pellets goes beyond the final product to include reducing the transportation costs of raw materials for other products, in this case bio-ethanol. Going back to the advantages of miscanthus, reduced costs with regards to seeding and fertilizer are a positive. Once the rhizomes have been planted the subsequent years are all about harvesting. The video touches on the economic benefits nationally and locally that can be achieved through growing energy crops. However they are also quick to point out that they do not want the miscanthus to compete with food crops, more the crop could take advantage of land which is not suitable for food crops. Miscanthus holds a lot of potential and is one of the key energy crops along with Switchgrass and Hemp. Thank you for reading, please comment below.
Once you have decided which pellet boiler you want to own for your heating needs your next choice is what pellet storage solution you will have. The video to the right is a promotional video from Froling on the pellet storage solutions they offer. The first option they present is their universal suction system. Multiple hoses fit into a manifold which then sends off hoses to three different points on the base of the silo. As stated in the video these suction hoses can pull the pellets from a considerable distance when the pellet store is not next to the boiler. A wedge shaped wall system means the pellets in the hopper will always fall into the trough bottom. In the base of the store there is a horizontal auger which moves the pellets in front of the suction ports. The pellet boiler its self has a small hopper with low and high level sensors. These sensors either tell the suction fan to come on or go off to make sure the boiler always has a sufficient supply of fuel. The wedge shaped hopper can hold the most pellets, but it also the most expensive option and requires the most space. Another alternative is the bag silo which can be quickly assemble. Again the suction system fits into the base of the bag to collect the pellets. If your budget current cannot stretch to such storage solutions Froling do offer an extra capacity hopper fitted to the boiler. This is simply a top loading hopper for bags. However in the future you can still upgrade the boiler for automated pellet filling systems. Finally there is the option of an underground tank. These are quite common in Germany, often positioned under the drive. All the pellet silo/stores can then receive a tanker delivery which means you only need a fuel delivery once or twice a year generally. Another option is to simply build your own storage. We built a structure next to the building where our boiler is kept. Filled the room can hold around 16 tons of pellets which can last us 2 years. When torrefied pellets become possible the fuel store would last for 4 years.