warmth for the region

Where so much wood is stored, it also smells like it. Pellets are stacked almost up to the open wooden beam ceiling of the newly created silo in Schlacht, small brownish-grey wooden sticks intended for burning in domestic stoves. You can stick your hand in and let it trickle through your fingers at the foot of the gently sloping wooden mountain, which just fills about a third of the hall. The rest of the area, 680 square meters, has been cleared for the guests who have been invited this Friday afternoon to attend the opening of the BayWa distribution center.

You feel that wood is pure energy when you lean against one of the bar tables made of thick tree slabs and listen to Emil Sopper, head of the wood pellets business unit at BayWa, talk about the past and future of the fuel. As a renewable raw material, it increases the hopes of many homeowners for independence from fossil fuels such as gas and oil and above all from those from the states that supply them, but on the other hand the increasing demand raises concerns about a sell-out of the CO2 storage forest .

With a total annual trading volume of 750,000 tonnes of wood pellets, BayWa is one of the largest pellet suppliers in Germany and the market leader in southern Germany. According to BayWa, the volume of wood pellets sold and consumed nationwide is currently a good 2.9 million tons a year.

2500 to 3000 tons can be stored in battle

With the new warehouse in Schlacht bei Glonn, the company wants to further expand its storage and distribution capacities. 2500 to 3000 tons can be accommodated here in order to supply private customers within a radius of about 50 kilometers. Including the new location, BayWa maintains 16 of its own warehouses with a total capacity of 73,000 tons. The fuel is manufactured in regional sawmills with connected pellet production.

BayWa opens a warehouse in battle: wood smells good and feels good too, in contrast to heating oil, which many private households are now replacing with pellets.

Wood smells good and feels good too, in contrast to heating oil, which many private households are now replacing with pellets.

(Photo: Peter Hinz-Rosin)

“You cannot imagine how important such a camp, such a location, is in the current situation,” says Emil Sopper. And by situation he means a dramatically increasing demand in recent months as well as the associated price increase. In this July alone, three times as many pellets were ordered as in July 2021. The main reason is obvious: the fear of a shortage of Russian gas. Those who can, want to make themselves independent of conventional energy sources, which, as Beate Schmidt-Menig, Chairwoman of the German Energy Wood and Pellet Association, explains, still account for almost 60 percent of net energy consumption in Germany.

Three to five times less CO2 is emitted, says the chairwoman of the German energy wood and pellet association.

A crime in their eyes, among other things, with regard to the lower CO2 consumption of pellet combustion compared to oil, which is primarily replaced by wood pellets. Three to five times less CO2 is emitted. With 650,000 pellet heating systems that have already been installed this year and 80 to 90,000 that will be added by the end of the year, “four and a half million tons of CO2” can be saved, she explains.

The fact that oil in particular is being replaced by pellets has to do with the storage capacities. Space is required for the five to six tons of wood pellets that a single-family home needs each year. Where there used to be oil tanks, there is also room for pellets, which, according to Schmidt-Menig, also means that pellet heating systems are particularly popular in rural areas. In the cities, gas heating prevails. “But in the meantime, gas customers are also clearing out their cellars.”

BayWa opens camps in battle: Gas comes through pipelines, pellets by truck. High diesel costs act as a price driver here.

Gas comes through pipelines, pellets by truck. High diesel costs act as a price driver here.

(Photo: Peter Hinz-Rosin)

The dark side of the switch for Baywa and its customers at the moment is above all the extremely high price. While a ton of pellets has cost around 250 euros in recent years, the price is now just under 700 euros, explains Emil Sopper – who is also certain that the price will fall again. In addition to the increased demand, in some cases existing customers had already replenished their inventories by more than they needed, the high electricity costs played the biggest role in the current increase. The production of pellets, in which residual wood is compressed using a lot of energy, requires a lot of electricity. Added to this, according to Sopper, were the extremely high diesel costs. The raw material has to be transported to the customer. And finally, the recession-related crisis in the construction industry also plays a role: if less is built, less is cut in the sawmills, correspondingly less residual wood is used for pellet production – which leads to the big questions associated with wood heating.

BayWa opens a warehouse in battle: The pellets are transported to the warehouse via a screw conveyor with a connection outside the hall.

The pellets are transported to the store via a screw conveyor with a connection outside the hall.

(Photo: Peter Hinz-Rosin)

Although pellets have the reputation of being relatively environmentally friendly as a renewable raw material – only the CO2 that was previously bound in the forest through photosynthesis in the trees is released – but opinions differ on this point. With 90 percent sawn wood leftovers and ten percent forest wood that cannot be sawn, which is produced during the wood harvest, as Sopper explains, pellets are actually a by-product. “The tree is also far too valuable to be felled and processed into pellets,” he says.

Between 2002 and 2012, the forest area in Germany increased by 0.4 percent

However, environmental experts point out that although wood grows back and thus takes CO2 out of the air, it takes time to do so. In addition, it is feared that increased demand not only in Germany, but throughout Europe, will result in healthy forest trees being felled for burning. In order to ensure the preservation of the forest in Germany, forest monitoring is carried out at regular intervals. In the past two, Sopper explains, “it was found that the forest is growing”. In fact, the forest area in Germany increased by 0.4 percent between 2002 and 2012, as a look at the corresponding report by the federal government shows. However, the results of the current monitoring will not be available until the end of 2022. And as an evaluation by the German Aerospace Center shows, almost five percent of the total forest area disappeared between January 2018 and April 2021. The main trigger is the heat.

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