Sign Up to our mailing list

The Voice of Canada’s growing pellet sector
  • Video: Heating with Wood Pellets

    Heating with wood pellets is an effective way to help in the fight against climate change.

  • Video: Wood Pellet Association of Canada

    Existing coal plants can be cost-effectively repurposed to use wood pellet fuel to help the environment and reduce air pollution.

  • Pellets

    Made from renewable forest byproducts and unmerchantable material, wood pellets from Canada provide a renewable, sustainable fuel source for generations to enjoy. | Read More

  • Sustainable

    Only 9% of the world’s forest are certified. Over 42% of them are in Canada, making it an ideal source for sustainable wood pellets. | Read More

  • Renewable

    WPAC members rely on sawmill waste and forest harvest residuals for the bulk of their fibre supply, allowing 100% resource use. | Read More

  • Fossil Fuel Alternative

    Whether on their own or co-fired with coal, wood pellets provide a lower carbon footprint and renewable energy source. | Read More

  • Innovative

    WPAC continues to support R&D in key wood pellet areas like safety, efficiency, fuel stability, energy content and more. | Read More

Scientists, engineers and inventors are putting great effort towards developing advanced lignocellulosic biofuels in Canada. Some examples include cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, and synthetic natural gas. It is interesting to consider how this might impact the wood pellet industry.

Could lignocellulosic biofuels become so valuable that their production will use up all the forestry residues currently being used as raw material for wood pellets? Or, in addition to their use for heat and power, could wood pellets become a feedstock for lignocellulosic biofuels?

First-generation biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel are made from food crops. Ethanol is typically made from sugar cane, corn or wheat. The manufacturing processes are fairly straightforward. In the case of sugar cane, the cane is milled, the sugar juice is fermented and then distilled into ethanol. Making ethanol from corn and wheat is only slightly more complicated. Corn and wheat are milled into starch, which is then liquefied and cooked with enzymes that convert the starch to sugar. Then the sugar is fermented and distilled into ethanol. Biodiesel is another first-generation biofuel. In Canada, biodiesel is typically made from canola; again, a food crop. Canola oil is converted to biodiesel by a process known as transesterification, which is the reaction of a triglyceride (fat/oil) with an alcohol to form esters and glycerol.

There are serious disadvantages to first generation biofuels: only a small part of the plant is used to make fuel – i.e. the sugar, starch or oil – while the rest is wasted; using food crops to make fuels is controversial; the greenhouse gas savings are insufficient; and there isn’t enough arable land to produce a sufficient volume of first-generation biofuels to make a meaningful impact on displacing fossil gasoline and diesel consumption. This is what has prompted the development of second generation or advanced biofuels. Advanced biofuels are produced using non-food feedstocks. The entire plant is used rather than just the sugars, starches, and oils. Advanced biofuels are typically more sustainable than first-generation biofuels and yield greater greenhouse gas benefits.

Lignocellulosic biofuels are one family of advanced biofuels. Lignocellulosic biofuels, as the name suggests, are made from lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose. All plant matter contains lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose. Typical feedstock for lignocellulosic biofuels might include bagasse and straw from sugar cane production, corncobs and corn stover, grasses, fast-growing forest crops like willows and poplars, and forestry residues from logging and sawmill production.

The chemistry related to converting lignocellulosic feedstocks into biofuels is well understood. However, the engineering processes required to affect the conversions are still being developed and are not expected to be widely commercialized before 2020. Generally speaking, lignocellulosic biofuels are made using biochemical or thermochemical conversion processes. Biochemical conversion is used to make cellulosic ethanol. This process is much more difficult than the first-generation processes of converting starches and sugars. With lignocellulosic feedstocks, the plant cell walls are composed of complex polymers, which must undergo a first stage of acid hydrolysis, then separation of liquids and solids, and a second stage of acid hydrolysis before the fermentation and distillation of sugars into ethanol. This complexity will add significant cost over first generation ethanol production.

Thermochemical processes include pyrolysis and gasification. The main product of pyrolysis is bio-oil, which can be refined into transportation fuels and other
chemicals. Unfortunately, bio-oil is acidic, has high water content, and is unstable. Engineering processes to cope with these challenges and to purify bio-oil are still being developed. The main product of gasification is syngas, which can be refined into ammonia, methanol, synthetic natural gas, other chemical outputs, and even jet fuel. The processes to produce biofuels through gasification are also still under development. Thus, it is unlikely that second-generation biofuels will be widely deployed before 2030.

Wood pellets would be a highly desirable feedstock for lignocellulosic biofuels. Compared to other feedstock options, wood pellets are homogenous; they are low in ash, moisture, chlorine and nitrogen. They are widely available. They are easily transportable and a dependable wood pellet supply chain exists. If biofuel developers choose to use forestry residues rather than wood pellets as feedstock, then significant cost will be added to carry out much of the necessary pre-treatment that has already been accomplished though the wood pellet production process.

However, lignocellulosic biofuels will ultimately have to compete for market share with first-generation biofuels, and indeed fossil fuels. While lignocellulosic biofuels will have superior GHG and sustainability credentials, they will still need to be reasonably cost competitive. Yet they will be more expensive to produce. This means that there will be enormous pressure to minimize feedstock costs, so wood pellets might prove to be too expensive. On the other hand, it is not likely that biofuels will be able to compete with wood pellets for access to forestry residues.

Presently, unlike the lignocellulosic biofuel industry, which does not yet exist, the wood pellet industry is profitable. About 30 million tonnes of wood pellets are consumed annually for heat and power around the world. Annual consumption is continuing to grow at a rate of about 15 per cent annual production. It seems unlikely that we will see lignocellulosic biofuels as competition for wood pellets in the foreseeable future.

Industry Links

Industry Links



Become a Member

Become a Member


WPAC Safety Committee

To find more information about the WPAC Safety Committee and safety resources, please click here

Power Generation


Sustainable power

The vast majority of Canadian wood pellets are made from sawmill residuals - sawdust. The rest are made from the residuals from harvesting operations for sawmills and pulp mills, or low-grade timber from forest industry harvest sites that has no other economic value. Think firewood. Read more...

Breathing easier - pellet emissions vs coal

Sustainability should be top of mind for any company that wants to stay in the game in today’s world.

As important a role as Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions play, we also need to focus on noxious emissions versus coal.


Industry News


  • Baghouse safety: best practices for hands-on maintenance

    Baghouse safety: best practices for hands-on maintenance Baghouse maintenance can be quite complex and involve many trades from power engineers, millwrights, electricians, instrumentation technicians and contractors. The results of proper maintenance can yield a well-running, efficient and safe fines collection system (baghouse) that will enhance productivity and[…]

  • FPAC welcomes NRCan investments, calls for closer co-operation

    On July 2, the federal government announced renewed funding for the Investment in Indigenous Forestry Initiative (IFIT) program and the Indigenous Forestry Initiative (IFI) to accelerate innovation and Indigenous-led economic development in Canada’s forest sector. The Forest Products Association of[…]


The Pellet Advantage

Efficient and Plentiful Production

Wood Pellet Association of Canada members are world leaders in the design and operation of modern pellet plants.


Innovating our way to a safer, better product

Wood pellets are a safe, reliable modern fuel. But they are still a fuel, requiring care in producing, shipping and storing.


Renewable and sustainable? Energy really can grow on trees.

There is no single energy source capable of solving our dependence on fossil fuels. Instead we need to look to a mix of new fuels, including wood pellets.


Argus Wood Pellet Index

US$ per metric tonneArgus Wood Pellet Index

We are using cookies to give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. To find out more, read our Privacy Policy.