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Wood pellets in France

Barat Robin and Binyam Yosef

      I. Introduction

The availability of wood in France is important, around 20 million hectares of mainland France are covered with forest i.e. 29,4% of the territory. Every year wood wastes from wood and forestry industry generated in large quantity. While currently these wood waste and forestry residues are not been fully used. It is estimated that about 50 million m3 of biomass could be as energy purpose per year. Wood is not only being used for energetic reasons but also it is increasingly being used in private households. In 2014, 7.4 million out of about 28 million households used firewood due to reasons of comfort. Paris plans to provide municipal housings with heat generated by pellets. The government currently works on a national biomass strategy with special regulations. Within this, the use of biomass in private households, industry, and district heating supply systems is meant to be sponsored.

     II. Description of the product

Pellet is a natural fuel that has the shape of small cylinders of 100% of wood. They come mainly from the compaction of related products from sawmills such as sawdust and chips. Wood pellets are used for heating, it’s very low humidity (less than 10%) gives it a high calorific value and allows the heaters to have an excellent performance. The calorific value or PCI of wood pellets is on average 4800 KWh / t (minimum 4600 KWh / t).

   III. Description of the market

Since 2008, the production of wood pellets in France has increased enormously and continues to progress. The curve has exceeded one million tons in 2016 and is expected to reach 1,3 million in 2017. The year has started well. The studies and figures will confirm and enlighten our lanterns, but we can suppose that this results from a revival of economic dynamism, a stronger attention of the consumers in the choice of their energy and a better knowledge of the pellet heating of wood.The production of pellets is greater than the consumption which limits the importation of pellet in France. As in most of the countries, the pellet markets can be split into three segments: private residential, collective heating and industrial. The trend in pellet consumption is directly related to the trend in the sale of pellet heating systems. In 2017 the price of a ton of pellets is about 285€.

Figure 1 : Production and consumption of wood pellets in France (Sources : Propellet & SNPG 2017)

In France, the pellets market has a very small position in the heating market because our main energy sources are fossil energies (nuclear, electric, oil). The pellets stove market represents only 5% of the heating market of independents heating systems in our country. In France, pellets are not used to produce power.  The first goal for pellets is the household heating system. Wood pellets it’s mainly for individual use. Some companies, such as large sawmills, use their "waste" (bark, dust, ...) to produce energy for their dryers. Other companies choose to create a pellet production plant that it can sell in France and abroad.


     IV.  Description of policy measures

Public policies are key factors for the development of any renewable energy in Europe. The public strategies implemented all these last years on wood energy focused on improving the wood log uses by the householder and on the development of heating or cogeneration units burning wood chips. The wood pellet was able to benefit from some tax incentives for high-quality stoves or boilers but with no specific support to communication on the innovative and performing solution that it represents. Because of the lack of assistance to promotion, wood pellet heating solutions are still not known by a majority of the French consumers.In order to make the change towards biomass heating plants more tempting, there will be tax bonuses on up to 30% of acquisition costs. Otherwise, the homeowner won’t benefit from the bonuses.

    V. Evaluation of the effect of the measures

The development of the French pellet sector was never directly supported at a national level. One major reason was the fear to destabilize the panel and paper industry for part of their raw materials supply. Moreover, no action has been taken to develop this market.

From my point a view, the French government gives environmental objectives for the bioenergy sector but makes no effort to help its development. However, the organization like SNPGB gather most of the producers of wood pellets with the aim of developing the valorization of wood pellets in the wood energy sector.