Global demand for torrefied biomass could exceed 70 million tonnes a year by the end of the decade

Global demand for torrefied biomass could exceed 70 million tonnes a year by the end of the decadeTorrefied biomass is on the brink of becoming a viable feedstock for utility-scale electricity generators, potentially displacing coal as well as some conventional untreated biomass and wood pellets. Developers are aiming to capture a share of a market that could amount to many tens of millions of tonnes. A new report by Hawkins Wright* forecasts that favourable renewable energy policies in Europe, North America and Asia would result in global demand of more than 70 million tonnes a year by 2020.

Torrefied fuels have already been successfully test fired at several power plants in the US, Europe and Japan. These have demonstrated the potential to displace coal in largely un-modified utility-scale power plants at high co-firing percentages and at minimal capital cost to the generator.

A number of developers have commercial scale plants either under construction or in the early stages of operation. Significant volumes of torrefied biomass are expected to reach the market in the coming months. Several truly commercial-scale torrefaction plants are likely to be operating by 2013.

Hawkins Wright has analysed the costs of each element in the biomass supply chain, from the supply of raw feedstock through to the end-user of the torrefied fuel. One of the main advantages of torrefied fuel is that its higher energy density reduces sensitivity to the cost of transport. Each shipment of torrefied fuel carries about 40% more energy (by volume) than conventional white pellet and well over three times that of wood chip. Importantly, this means that torrefied fuel can compete with white pellet when shipped in smaller vessels, creating flexibility for suppliers and traders.

The carbon footprint of torrefied biomass is also significantly smaller than that of conventional wood pellets. This is due to reduced electricity consumption in the manufacturing process and to the lower transport emissions per unit of energy.

In addition, the utilities benefit from savings associated with reduced operating cost and, more significantly, reduced capital cost in the power station, particularly when moving to higher rate co-firing or 100% conversion. This raises the possibility of a price premium being paid for torrefied fuel.

The market for torrefied biomass is potentially an exciting business opportunity for biomass suppliers and for the utilities. But predicting the potential future size of this opportunity is complicated by the necessity for government support, either through systems of renewable energy incentives or through the existence of a carbon market that discourages the combustion of fossil fuels. There is therefore a great deal of political risk attached to the market outlook.

John Bingham a Director at Hawkins Wright commented: “Government support for renewable energy is both the main driver of the market’s growth and also the main constraint. As recent decisions in Europe have demonstrated, all governments are under pressure to minimise the impact of their policies on the energy bills of households and businesses. Of course, to a large extent this is an argument in favour of biomass combustion, particularly of torrefied biomass, which is arguably the lowest-cost source of dispatchable renewable electricity.”

For more information, contact:

John Bingham, Research Director. Tel: +44 20 8747 5844 Email: Web:

* “The Supply Chain Economics of Biomass Torrefaction”. This 150 page multi-client report, published in January 2012, examines the market impact of torrefaction on the whole biomass supply chain, from the supply of raw feedstock through to the end-user of the torrefied fuel. See

About Hawkins Wright:

Hawkins Wright is an independent British consultancy providing a range of strategic, forecasting, market intelligence and business information services to the international forest products industries. Amongst other services it publishes “Forest Energy Monitor” a bi-monthly report that covering developments in global biomass and wood pellet markets. Other services include single-client consultancy assignments and other multi-client reports and newsletters.
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