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LITTLE ROCK – A company that produces wood pellets for grilling has announced it will open a plant in Hope this year, and today I’d like to talk about the wood-pellet industry in Arkansas and what it means for this state.
Wood pellets are manufactured from sawdust, shavings, and other sweepings from sawmill floors as well as from timber that is too small or otherwise not suitable for milling. Initially, the pellets were used for heating and producing energy, but some companies, such as Fiber Energy Products in Mountain View, produce food-grade pellets for grilling.
Wood pellets are a sustainable fuel and produce fewer carbons, which makes the pellets a clean source of energy; and the temperature of a pellet fire is easier to control than a log fire.
The pellets resemble rabbit food. The manufacturing process begins with hammermilling, which pulverizes the wood scraps, which are then dried, hammermilled again, and then pressed into molds to form the pellets.
Highland Pellets, a company in Pine Bluff, began producing wood pellets in December 2016. Brian Reed, manager for fiber procurement, said Highland ships its pellets to the United Kingdom, which has required all its coal-fired power plants to convert to cleaner, sustainable fuels.
Fiber Energy, which produces pellets for the outdoor grill, sells pellets made from hickory, apple, cherry, mesquite, oak, and pecan.
On Wednesday, the family owned Dansons company announced it will open a plant to produce food-grade wood pellets in Hope. Dan Thiessen founded Dansons with his sons in 1999 to convert sawmill waste into animal bedding and wood-pellet fuel. The company also builds pellet-burning barbecue pits, which it will distribute from its plant in Hope. Dansons will produce pellets made from cherry, maple, white oak, elm, sweet gum, sassafras, and mesquite.
Dansons estimates that over the next three years, it will create fifty to one hundred jobs in Hope, which has a population of 10,000 and an unemployment rate of about 4.6 percent.
At least two other Arkansas companies produce wood pellets – Fiber Resource in Pine Bluff and Biomass in Monticello.
The wood-pellet industry is a perfect fit for Arkansas. It’s another tool for managing our forests. It reduces sawmill waste by creating another product from the scraps. It creates another market that allows landowners to sell small diameter trees that generally aren’t valuable. The pellet plants need wood. Arkansas has wood. The plants need employees. Arkansas offers a solid workforce. The top reason it’s a good fit, perhaps, is that pelleters are producing wood pellets for grilling, and we Arkansans love our barbecue.