Western Kentucky Pellet Power

Marion, KY – Bobby Martin and his son Turner Martin have been in the sawmill business for sometime. Their Marion, Kentucky company, Turner and Conyer Lumber has been in operation for more than 55 years. Their latest addition to the business, is a fairly new concept in this part of the state. In 2006, Turner Martin began researching wood pellet power. Because of their current business focus, Martin sees it as a logical choice.

"We have a large supply here that are really, as far as lumber goes, as a byproduct, aren't really used to their potential. And we saw this as a way to help, especially with the green energy initiative."

Wood pellets are the result of wood waste being condensed into small flammable pieces. The Turner's are still in the infancy of their pellet production. Kenneth Lynn, of Anderson Wood Products in Louisville Kentucky has been in the pellet production business for about three years. The manufacturing phase is one that requires very little input and gives an astounding output.

"We take the wood waste that typically, could very easily go into a land fill, for instance. We take that wood waste, in our case it's hard wood, it's been dried, and it gets ground into fine particles, then take that and put it into a pellet mill, which we add a little bit of recycled corn oil to it for lubrication, and some water or steam to it to soften to wood, and the pellet mill extrudes it out, just like rabbit feed. And those wood pellets come out as a densified, low moisture content product, that is very efficient to burn, it has very little ash content, and is much easier to handle, than say, fire wood."

While slow going in Kentucky the Pacific Northwest, and Colorado, have adopted pellet burning stoves to heat homes and small businesses. Martin hopes he can parley the northerner's knack for efficiency to folks in Western Kentucky.

"The more I've looked into it, the more I've decided that it is definitely something that needs to be acted upon because it will help us with our dependency on foreign fuels."

Wood pellets are considered biomass, which is anything that is a renewable energy source made of organic material, like sawdust. Though most pellet plants usually take advantage of neighboring sawmills and mass furniture producers, this type of biomass has the potential to utilize much more waste than just hard wood.

"We're talking about all types of plant material. It could be, obviously, wood from trees, or corn stalks, or wheat straw. It could be cherry pits, it could be anything that can burn if it's dry enough."

With new tougher laws on carbon emissions Lynn reveals the strong environmental implications for the state of Kentucky; wood pellets are carbon neutral.

"If a tree falls in the woods, and it rots - the bacteria that consume that, will generate CO2, and that's a natural process. If you take that tree and you cut it down, and you burn it, you will generate exactly the same amount of CO2."

Lynn also says wood pellets are quite efficient to produce.

"That's one of the arguments with ethanol from corn, is that it takes 96% of the energy that you get from ethanol to produce ethanol. The good news about wood pellets is it only takes about 10% of the energy to produce that wood pellet."

The product is carbon neutral, efficient to produce and fairly affordable. On the small scale, a 40 lb. bag of wood pellets from Anderson Wood Products averages about $4.25 to $4.75 depending on how far the bag travels to its owner.

On a larger scale, the state of Kentucky looks to benefit substantially from the future pellet production. Frank Moore, director of biofuels for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, explains the money Kentucky looks to gain from such renewable energy endeavors. Though big cities are known for innovation in renewable energy, Moore says all of Kentucky is involved.

"Based on our ability to use 25 million tons of biomass per year, the economic output - that was almost 3 and a half billion dollars and 13,000 jobs. And that's only part of the story. That output is going to be centered in rural areas - in those areas that can grow the biomass, in those areas that have forests that can harvest biomass. That's where that economic stimulus is going to go."

Martin and his father are unsure of the beginning date of production for there new Marion facility. Though they've investigated other plants in the state, like the ones in Louisville, Somerset, and Gamaliel to provide models for their plant, they haven't finished researching.