According to Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor, Xiaotao Bi, wood pellets are the best choice for residential heating.

“In an isolated environment, when only the emissions from the burning fuel are analyzed, natural gas appears to be a cleaner option,” says Bi. “But when you factor in the entire life cycle of natural gas—a fossil fuel—with that of engineered wood pellets, which come from a renewable resource, the pellets are a far better environmental choice. They’re clean, and they’re sustainable.”

Environmentally speaking, wood pellets are an ideal fuel for industry and district heating.

Waste-wood materials, such as sawdust, are bound into pellets in a high-temperature pelletization process; no additives or glues are used. No new trees are cut down to create pellets, and pelletization is a beneficial use of trees killed by the mountain pine beetle.

Engineered pellets have a uniform size and moisture content and can be cleanly burned in specially designed automatic pellet furnaces, unlike wood logs or wood residues in traditional wood furnaces. Wood pellets have been endorsed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and are one of the cleanest-burning and most renewable energy sources on Earth.

Bi, an expert in fluid-particle systems and multiphase reactors, is part of UBC’s Biomass and Bioenergy Research Group (BBRG), a multidisciplinary team that collaborates with industry and government to meet the needs of the emerging bioeconomy. Over the past five years, the BBRG has grown from three members to 15. The group collaborates extensively with the Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC) to engineer a better pellet.

Bi conducts life-cycle analyses—evaluations of the environmental and social impacts of a given product or services caused by or required for their existence—to investigate the health and environmental concerns of pellet burning and improve the environmental performance of pellet making, transportation and distribution.

His research team works to quantify net carbon dioxide emissions and investigate the gases that pellets emit during storage and transportation, to help prevent fires and ensure good air quality for workers exposed to pellets. In addition, the group works to improve the energy density and durability of pellets, using various multiphase processes.

B.C. is the centre of wood-pellet production in North America and roughly 90% of B.C.’s wood pellets are exported, including more than 500,000 tonnes to Europe. The B.C. wood pellet industry has grown by 20% each year over the last five years. 

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