The first residential wood pellet burning appliance was introduced to the market in Reno, Nevada in 1984. Our company was one of the first to package wood pellet fuel for home use that year - we sold 200 tons! Last year, 26 years later, over 2,000,000 tons were consumed by an estimated 1,000,000 appliances operating today. Most all of that wood pellet fuel burned was labeled “Premium Grade”. So who came up with the standards and why?
The year after the introduction of the pellet appliance, a group of about 7 fuel and appliance manufacturers got together to determine what we all could live with, in terms of raw material availability, quality of raw material and compatibility of that material to stove function. What came out of that meeting was a fuel specification criteria that has served our industry (with some minor modifications) for the last 25 years. That specification was and is today for “Premium Grade Wood Pellet Fuel”:
• Ash content: 0.5% (later raised to 1%) for all Premium Grade Wood Pellet Fuel
• Diameter of pellet: ¼” this was due to stove function and less stress on feed mechanisms
• Length: Nominal length less than <1-1/2”> same reasons as above
• BTU: (Heat content) Minimum 8,000 BTU/LB
• Bulk Density: (Measure of how dense the pellet is) Set at 40lb./cubic/ft. Min
• Fines: Maximum set at 0.2% (weight of fines sifted out of a 40lb. bag)
• Moisture: Maximum moisture content not to exceed 8%
• Sodium Chloride: Not to exceed 300ppm (This was added some years later)
So what does this mean to you, the consumer? The grade of fuel or the quality of fuel must be matched up to your stove manufacturers’ recommendations for your appliance to operate properly and meet your expectations of how often you are willing to clean out your stove. Putting in a lower grade of wood pellet fuel than is recommended by your manufacturer can cause operational issues, more frequent cleaning, potentially expensive repair costs or your stove may simply not operate at all. Most wood pellet appliance manufacturers recommend using a “Premium Grade Wood Pellet Fuel.” The reasons are obvious. Your stove will perform better, you will not have the operational headaches associated with inferior wood pellet fuel and you will be happier, even though lower grade fuel might have been initially cheaper.
The PFI (Pellet Fuel Institute) our trade association adopted these standards 25 years ago in an effort to protect you, the consumer, from buying a product that is not compatible with your appliance and your expectations. The wood pellet manufacturers have been self policing the quality of their product for the last 25 years, and the system worked pretty well for the most part for a couple of reasons. First, our industry was relative small. Word got around quickly if a manufacturer made a bad product and no one wanted a bad reputation. Secondly, the market place always determines whose product is good or not, so that fear kept everyone honest. If the bag said “Premium Wood Pellet Fuel” on it, good chance it was.
However, our industry has undergone unprecedented growth the last few years which has increased the number of wood pellet fuel manufacturers by three fold compared to just a few years ago. For you, the consumer, this is a good thing for many reasons; more wood pellet fuel available, no shortages, potential savings from less freight, etc.
However, the old “Honor” system that has served our industry the past 25 years on maintaining wood pellet fuel quality is gone. Quality, in some cases has been replaced by price point, and consumer confidence has suffered as a result. Some new manufacturers are using raw material contaminated with foreign substances that are potentially harmful to stove operation and produce emissions that could exceed EPA (Environmental Protection Agency ) standards, as well as PFI fuel standards. All the while the packaging indicates “Premium Grade Wood Pellet Fuel.” You as a consumer have a right to expect the product to be as advertised.
All this has not gone unnoticed. The Federal EPA is proposing new third party independent testing of all wood pellet fuel to ensure that the quality of the fuel in the bag is as advertised. Until these new procedures and third party testing are in place, the best way to protect yourself from falsely advertised substandard fuel is to buy from a reputable dealer who stands behind their product, or from a trusted manufacturer that has been around for a while. Often times if a wood pellet fuel is substantially cheaper than what you’ve been using, it may not have the quality of product that you’ve come to expect.
Kenneth R. Tucker
President & CEO