Europe’s increasing emphasis on renewable energy lies behind the announcements this summer that two companies plan to build wood pellet plants in Arkansas, one in Pine Bluff and one in Monticello.
Demand for the pellets, which energy-producing companies in Europe use to generate electricity, led to a doubling of U.S. exports of the pellets last year, from 1.6 million tons in 2012 to 3.2 million tons in 2013.
In July, Zilkha Biomass Energy LLC of Houston announced it would build a $90 million facility, creating 52 jobs in Monticello. In August, Highland Pellets LLC announced that it would build a $130 million plant in Pine Bluff, creating 35 jobs. Highland Pellets, incorporated and registered in Arkansas, is a subsidiary of Highland LLC of Boston.
Zilkha will be producing 375,000 metric tons of torrefied, or black, pellets annually. Highland will be producing 500,000 metric tons of traditional wood pellets annually. Torrefied pellets have been roasted to remove moisture and have a greater energy density. They are also easier to handle and transport.
“I think the pellet industry is working its way into Arkansas,” said Matthew Pelkki, a professor of natural resource economics and timber management at the Arkansas Forest Resources Center in Monticello. Although, he added, “I don’t know that there’s been a major push to focus on pellets in the state.”