Wood pellets fuel booming energy-related industry in southern U.S.

The Port of Beaumont signed up anew business and is bringing in pelletized wood waste for export to Europe. It's a kind of wood pellet made from saw mill residual and sawdust that is intended to help take the place of coal at European power plants. The pellets are from a plant in Crockett Texas.   Dave Ryan/The Enterprise
The Port of Beaumont signed up anew business and is bringing in pelletized wood waste for export to Europe. It’s a kind of wood pellet made from saw mill residual and sawdust that is intended to help take the place of coal at European power plants. The pellets are from a plant in Crockett Texas. Dave Ryan/The Enterprise

Parts of the South might be known for oil and gas production, but the region also is a mass producer of another lesser-known energy source: wood pellets, a biomass fuel.

In 2016, the South was the nation’s biggest producer of wood pellets, made of scraps from sawmills, logging operations and other wood product manufacturing. The U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of wood pellets, most of which are used for utility-scale electricity generation. Nearly all of the country’s wood pellets are destined for Europe, which accounts for 85 percent of the world’s wood pellet use, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Wood pellets are used for heating homes, but are mainly used by utilities in the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands. Most of the wood pellets made in the U.S. head to the Drax Power Plant in northern England.

The South has the capacity to produce the most wood pellets — nearly 11 million tons a year — in the country. Texas plays a small role in that — the state has two wood pellet production plants, both northeast of Houston, close to the Louisiana border. This year the South produced nearly all of the pellets destined for utility-scale power generation plants, according to the EIA.

While more than 80 percent of American-made wood pellets traveled out of the country in 2016, the remainder stayed here to heat homes in the U.S., mostly in the northeast.

SHOW MORE