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Raw Material Safety Analysis of Thai Wood Pellet Production (Part 2)

Date: 11/26/2020 08:57:10 From: Clicks:

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3.3. Feedstock Supply for Wood Pellet Production

The main raw materials of wood pellets are waste wood from economic wood and para-rubber wood, including wood from FGTs. In 2017, economic and FGT wood production (for domestic use) in Thailand was about 506,350 tonnes (excluding para-rubber wood)—see in Table 4. Some wood was imported from other countries at 30,254 tonnes, that is, only 5.64% of domestic use. Economic wood is timber that can be processed to products, including both direct and indirect benefits for growers such as furniture wood, construction wood, firewood or wood for extracting essential substances. It is valuable and expensive wood and provides farmers with income. It is harvested from trees that grow over three years old, such as, Tectona grandis, Pterocarpus macrocarpus, Samanea saman, Dalbergia cochinchinensis, Dalbergia oliveri, Hopea odorata, Afzelia xylocarpa, Shorea obtuse, Shorea roxburghii, Swietenia macrophylla, Azadirachta indica, Michelia champaca and Anthocephalus chinensis. The waste from economic wood is at 45% of total wood (198,500 tonnes).

Table 4. Wood consumption in Thailand in 2017, excluding para-rubber wood (tonne).

  Wood Waste Wood 3
Domestic use1    
1. Forest Industry Organization    
-Economic wood 69,820 36,400
-Fast-growing trees 57,430 -
2. Private sector    
-Economic wood 352,500 2 158,600
-Fast-growing trees 26,600 2 -
Total 506,350 195,000
-Economic wood 7769 3500
-Fast-growing trees 22,485 -
Total wood for wood pellet raw materials    
-Economic wood - 198,500
-Fast-growing trees 106,515 -

FGTs can grow well and are popular in Thailand, for instance, Eucalyptus globulus, Acacia spp., Leucaena leucocephala, Melaleuca cajuputi and Casuarina junghuhniana. FGT production in Thailand was about 84,000 tonnes; these were used for several industries, not only renewable energy. The calculation of feedstock from FGTs is different from economic wood; the trunks of FGTs are used, whereas for economic wood, only waste wood is used to produce the wood pellets. Hence, the total waste wood from economic wood and FGT wood available for producing wood pellets is about 305,000 tonnes.

The para-rubber trees are an economic crop of Thailand for natural rubber production. The para-rubber wood is harvested when the yield of para-rubber reduces (over 25 years old). Thailand had a para-rubber plantation area of about 3.62 million hectares in 2018. Most of the plantation area (60%) is in the south of Thailand (see in Figure 3). The yield of para-rubber wood per hectare is about 285 tonnes. Waste wood from the para-rubber wood industry is around 8,000,000 tonnes per year .

Figure 3. Para rubber production areas by regions of Thailand: 2018 (unit: hectare, %)
Figure 3. Para rubber production areas by regions of Thailand: 2018 (unit: hectare, %) 

The feedstock supply of wood pellets in Thailand from para-rubber waste wood, economic waste wood and FGT wood is 8.31 million tonnes, which can produce 5.32 million tonnes of wood pellets (CF 1.56). However, the proportion of feedstock type can be calculated by weighting in terms of the number of wood pellet factories and the volume of wood in each region (Table 5). The results show that the proportions of para-rubber waste wood, economic waste wood and FGT wood are 0.65, 0.15 and 0.20, respectively. The potential amount of feedstock (PQ) in 2018 (Table 6) remains enough for wood pellet production. Nevertheless, a lot of the para-rubber waste wood is concentrated in the south of Thailand; hence, the distribution of feedstocks is not suitable.

Table 5. Estimating the proportion of feedstock by type.

Region Number of Wood
Pellet Factories 1
Para-Rubber Tree
Plantation Area 2 (%)
Economic Wood
Plantation 2 (%)
Proportion of
Raw Material (%)
Para FGT EW 5
South 19 70 30 Para 3 100 1900 0 0
North 5 34 66 Para + FGT 4 + EW 35/15/50 175 75 250
North-East 3 90 10 Para + FGT 4 + EW 90/5/5 270 15 15
East 5 40 60 Para + FGT 4 + EW 45/15/40 225 75 200
Central 12 20 80 Para + FGT 4 + EW 25/40/35 300 480 420
Total 44 - -     2870 645 885
          (%) 65 15 20

Table 6. Evaluating feedstock for wood pellet production in 2018.

Export 1 (tonne) 289,300
Domestic use 2 (tonne) 72,300
Wood pellet production 3 (tonne) 361,600
Conversion factor 4 (CF) 1.56
Total amount of feedstock; TQ (tonne) 8,305,000
-Para-rubber waste wood 5 8,000,000
-FGT woods 6 106,500
-Economic waste wood 7 198,500
Potential amount of feedstock; PQ (tonne) 7,741,000
-Para-rubber waste wood (65%) 7,633,300
-FGT wood (15%) 22,000
-Economic waste wood (20%) 85,700

The potential amount of feedstock relates to the wood pellet demand in Thailand in the future. The maximum wood pellet demand is about 904,000 tonnes (Table 2), whereas the overall potential amount of feedstock can produce 5.23 million tonnes of wood pellets. Therefore, Thailand has a substantial potential to produce wood pellets. However, the feedstock, especially para-rubber waste wood, is not distributed evenly in all regions of the country. If the Thai government supports using wood pellets in domestic use conscientiously, the cost of raw material transportation will increase. The results in Table 7 indicate that increasing 25% of wood pellet export and 50% of wood pellet domestic use will lead to a lack of FGT wood (PQ of fast-growing woods becomes −3480 tonnes).

Table 7. The potential of feedstock for 470,000 tonnes of wood pellets (+25% of wood pellet export and +50% of wood pellet domestic use).

  Quantity (tonne) CF TQ (tonne) PQ (tonne)
Wood pellet production 470,000 1.56 8,305,000 7,572,000
Para wood (65%) 305,500 1.56 8,000,000 7,523,000
Fast-growing tree wood (15%) 70,500 1.56 106,500 −3500
Economic wood (20%) 94,000 1.56 198,500 52,000

3.4. Diversity of Feedstock Supply

The diversity of feedstock supply (in 2018) for wood pellet production is shown in Table 8. The result indicates that the types of feedstocks for wood pellet production is small (the Shannon–Wiener index is 0.17). In 2018, Leucaena wood production was 0.45% of FGTs, which is rather small. However, Leucaena can be harvested faster than others (in only 2 years) and continuously every year because of regeneration. Hence, to support wood pellet production in the area which does not have para-rubber trees, Leucaena should be planted in the wasteland (areas unsuitable for agriculture, without irrigation systems, not for housing, not conservation area and not government areas). In this study, the increase in FGT production is set at 15%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%, as shown in Table 9. Production of Eucalyptus wood was 89.3% of all FGTs, with most of the Eucalyptus wood being used in the paper industry. Even though the weather of tropical countries is highly suitable for the rapid growth of Acacia without requiring any major agricultural input, Acacia can be harvested only after 3–4 years. However, the Shannon–Wiener index can be increased by having a variety of feedstock with equal proportions. If the FGT plantation area in wasteland is increased, the Shannon index will increase (Table 9). Evaluation of FGT production in wastelands is determined by assuming an average yield of FGTs at 3 tonnes per 0.16 ha per year and allowing for the harvest of only 25% of the plantation area annually.

Table 8. Shannon–Wiener index of raw materials for wood pellet production in 2018.

  Quantity (tonne) (1)
p = n/N
Ln p
(1) × (2) Shannon–Wiener Index (I)
Para-rubber waste wood 8,000,000 0.955720 −0.03 −0.0337  
FGT         0.17
Leucaena 376 (0.45%) 0.000045 −10.00 −0.0005
Acacia 7980 (9.49%) 0.000963 −6.95 −0.0067
Eucalyptus 75,055 (89.3%) 0.009060 −4.70 −0.0426
Other FGTs 1 636 (0.76%) 0.000077 −9.47 −0.0007
Economic waste woods 199,928 0.024134 −3.72 −0.0899  
Total 8,386,303        

Table 9. Shannon–Wiener index forecast and increase in the fast-growing tree plantation area in the wasteland.

  % Increase in FGT Plantation Area in Wasteland
15% 25% 50% 75% 100%
Wasteland (ha) 16,800 28,100 56,200 84,200 112,300
Quantity of FGTs (tonne) 79,000 131,700 263,200 394,900 526,400
  Leucaena 1 7900 13,200 26,300 39,500 52,600
  Acacia 1 7900 13,200 26,300 39,500 52,600
  Eucalyptus 2 62,400 104,000 208,000 312,000 415,900
  Other FGTs 3 800 1300 2600 3900 5300
ShannonWiener index 0.16 0.20 0.27 0.33 0.38

Although wasteland is selected without an irrigation system, which is a main factor for plantation, this area was identified considering the suitability of soil (in term of texture, depth, electrical conductivity, pH and slope) and rainfall. These results presented that FGT can grow in wasteland. However, agriculture in wasteland needs more investment than an abandoned area, while the yield may be less. If agriculture management is not suitable, problems in relation to disease and insects will occur and affect other crops. Therefore, the farmers should increase the diversity of genus and species of FGT.

Increasing the trend of domestic use and export of wood pellets in Thailand will enhance the value added of waste wood, especially para-rubber waste wood. Thailand will earn more income from wood pellet export. Moreover, the promotion of fast-growing trees plantation in wasteland will also contribute to the utilization of the wasteland and generate income for agriculture. The wood pellet production will support the security of energy production in Thailand because the feedstock is domestically available. Therefore, wood pellet production is essential to the economy and energy supply of Thailand.

3.5. Recommendations for Enhancing Long-Term Security of Feedstock Supply

3.5.1. Encouragement for Increasing the Domestic Use of Wood Pellets

Although the Thai government has encouraged using the wood pellets only for heat production, by supporting 30–50% of the fund to change to new burners, some factories joined this project. Thailand has 8005 units of boilers (526 coal boiler units, 4760 liquid fuel boiler units and 2719 gas boiler units which can be changed to renewable energy). However, promotion of wood pellet use in Thailand should be performed urgently because Thailand has the potential to become a more important producer and consumer on wood pellet markets if effective policy encouragement and a suitable regulatory framework are formulated. Furthermore, the Thai government should have a plan to raise the confidence of entrepreneurs for the acquisition of wood pellets and support a subsidy to control the price of raw materials.

3.5.2. Encouraging Cultivation of Fast-Growing Trees in Wasteland

Even though the feedstock from para-rubber waste wood is enough to produce a lot of wood pellets, the results from Section 3.2 and Section 3.3 indicate that the distribution and quantity of feedstock supply in other regions are less in comparison to the south of Thailand. Moreover, the wood pellet factories are also concentrated only in the south of Thailand (Figure 4A) . Meanwhile, there is about 702,000 ha of wasteland in Thailand which is suitable for the growth of FGTs, most of which is in the north-east (40%) (Figure 4B). The Thai government, through the Forest Industry Organization, tried to support only 3100 ha FGT plantation in 39 provinces in 2019. Hence, an increase in FGTs in the wasteland can help in the expansion of wood pellet production and higher diversity of feedstock. However, two cases can be set for comparison in terms of job opportunity, GHG emissions and increase in wood pellet cost. Case 1: the para-rubber wood pellets produced in the south of Thailand are sent to other regions (distance for sending to user: 1600 km (south to north or north-east)). In this case, there is no cultivation of FGTs for wood pellet production. Transportation of wood pellets to the north or north-east is by trains or trucks. Case 2: FGTs are encouraged to be planted in the wasteland areas of the northern or north-eastern regions. The wood pellet factories are set in the same area to minimize transportation requirements (100 km around the fast-growing tree cultivation area). The results in Table 10 indicate that Case 2 creates job opportunity of 0.13 person-year per ha from FGT cultivation and 0.0019 person-year per tonne from FGT wood pellets, which is higher than for Case 1. However, the employment from para-rubber wood cultivation is excluded, as it is latex, not para-rubber wood, that is the main product of this. Thus, the employment from cultivation should be considered for latex (rubber) rather than wood pellet production.

Figure 4. Comparing number of wood pellet factories and wasteland by region in Thailand.

Figure 4. Comparing number of wood pellet factories and wasteland by region in Thailand.

Table 10. Comparison of Cases 1 and 2 in terms of job opportunity, GHG emissions and increase in cost.

  Case 1 Case 2
Para-Rubber Wood Pellets 1 FGT Cultivation FGT Wood Pellets
Job opportunity 0.0019 person-year per tonne 0.13 person-year per ha 0.0019 person-year per tonne
GHG emissions (kg CO2 eq) per tonne of wood pellets 144.4 - 88.8–94.4 4
+Train 1600 km +62.2 - -
+Truck 1600 km +458.0 - -
Increase in cost      
+Train 2 1600 km +660 THB/tonne - -
+Truck 3 1 km +2 THB/tonne - -
+Truck 4 1600 km +3150 THB/tonne - -

The GHG emissions per tonne of para-rubber wood pellets (144 kg CO2 eq) are higher than the FGT wood pellets (88.8–94.4 kg CO2 eq) because of the use of chemical fertilizers. The para-rubber cultivation consumed 220 kg of chemical fertilizers per ha per year, whereas FGTs cultivation used only 30 kg per ha per year. Even though a higher proportion of environmental impacts from para-rubber cultivation were allocated to latex, which is the main product, the chemical fertilizers allocated to para-rubber wood were still higher than those for FGT cultivation. The FGTs can grow for 1–5 years before harvest and utilization. In terms of the environmental burdens, the FGTs are a suitable feedstock for wood pellet production, especially in the wasteland where economic crops cannot be grown. If the para-rubber wood pellets are sent to the north or north-east, GHG emissions from transportation by trains or trucks will increase by 62.2 kg CO2 eq per tonne and 458.0 kg CO2 eq per tonne, respectively. Furthermore, the cost of transportation to user by trains or trucks will increase by 660 THB/tonne/1600 km and 3150 THB/tonne/1600 km, respectively. Therefore, if there is encouragement for increasing the domestic use of wood pellets in Thailand, FGT cultivation in the wasteland is a solution of choice for distribution and quantity of feedstock supply, including lower GHG emissions and cost from transportation.

However, the FGTs which are planted in different regions should be selected properly considering the specific factors of each region, such as type of soil, quantity of rain, etc. The Thai government should consider offering a guaranteed price which can help stimulate immediate short-rotation coppice adoption. Furthermore, importers still request a certificate for good forestry management due to concerns about the raw material being from natural forest or poor cultivation. Hence, to address the issue of good forestry management, the increase in FGT cultivation should be managed by good forest management or sustainable cultivation which is safe for farmers and environmentally friendly. Moreover, the research on breeding to increase their yield should be encouraged by the Thai government.

3.5.3. Logistics Management

Logistics management is a considerable issue which relates to transportation of raw materials and products. Transportation of feedstock and wood pellets consumes fossil fuel such as diesel, which has a significant impact on the environment. Hence, setting the locations of feedstock cultivation, wood pellet factories and wood pellet users should be optimized to reduce the time and use of fuel. If the Thai government encourages wood pellet production for domestic use, the wood pellet factories should be distributed in all regions of Thailand to respond to the demand of industry and power plants. Although there are no factories in the north-east, this region has the most amount of wasteland suitable for cultivating FGTs (Figure 4). Therefore, if the wood pellet factories are set in the north-east or other areas which have high abundance of feedstocks and high demand of wood pellets, the environmental burdens are anticipated to reduce.

4. Conclusions

The trend of wood pellet demand, with export and domestic use increasing by 10–150% from the values in 2018, was forecast to be within a range of 398,000 to 904,000 tonnes. Evaluating the wood pellet demand following the requirements of the main importers and increasing 10% of domestic use as in 2018 showed that the wood pellet demand of Thailand in 2025 would surge to 582,000 tonnes. The feedstock supply of wood pellets in Thailand from para-rubber waste wood, economic waste wood and fast-growing tree wood is 8.31 million tonnes per year, which can produce 5.32 million tonnes per year of wood pellets. Therefore, Thailand has sufficient feedstock to produce the wood pellets following the forecasted wood pellet demand. However, increasing 25% of wood pellet export and 50% of wood pellet domestic use will result in a deficit of the fast-growing tree wood because para-rubber waste wood is not the distributed across all regions. The diversity of feedstock supply suggests that the type of feedstocks for wood pellet production is less (Shannon–Wiener index: 0.17) because it is predominated by para-rubber wood. By increasing the fast-growing tree plantation area in the wasteland, the Shannon–Wiener index will increase. GHG emissions from the para-rubber wood pellets are higher than those from the wood pellets of the fast-growing trees because of the higher use of chemical fertilizers. Recommendations for policy from this study focus on encouraging increasing domestic use of wood pellets, cultivation of fast-growing trees in wasteland and optimized logistics management.

Wood pellet production project
Wood pellet production project

More: Raw Material Safety Analysis of Thai Wood Pellet Production (Part 1)

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