By Martin Leduc
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Since the Ukrainian War broke out, and with it the price of electricity has risen, many people have turned to pellets for heating. It is a small wooden ball that is placed in a stove made especially to receive them.
But like everything else, the price of pellets has increased a lot in recent months: “it has almost doubled since last summer”, pointed out in a previous article Eric Vial, director of Propellet, the national association of heating professionals with pellets from wood.news.fr.
Today, the ton is bought for around 600 euros. At the beginning of 2021 you had to count 300, 350 euros
In view of this significant price increase, many wondered if it was possible to make one yourself. And the answer is yes, but you still have to know a little bit about it. Details.
First step: select and recover the wood
The manager of AgriEuro, a European company that buys agricultural and garden equipment, Virginie Gallone explains that the wood must be selected carefully: “it must be clean and fresh. It should not remain there for a long time, because it must have around 10% humidity so that the granule stays well together once formed”.
This wood can also be recovered directly from the forest, but in this case it will be necessary to respect a drying period to reach the required level of humidity.
To do this, we can use a hygrometer to measure the moisture content of the chosen wood. This type of material can be found in any DIY store, and on many websites, such as AgriEuro for example.
Be careful, it is important not to take straw, hay, or worse yet: bark. “This type of wood can damage the material and produce very poor quality pellets,” insists Eric Vial.
You should also not have more than 40% resinous wood in your selection: “the resin sticks and damages the machinery”, says Virginie Gallone.
The woods that make an excellent granule according to Virginie Gallone: “beech, birch, poplar and oak”.
if you want add sawdust in the mixture is possible, but it should not be too dusty. “At the limit, a coarse sawdust mixed with the shredded wood (shredded wood editor’s note) after the fact is better than a fine powder”
A little less than 3 cubic meters of wood are needed for a ton of pellets.
The necessary “ingredients” for the artisan manufacture of pellets
For a ton of pellets you will need:
• slightly less than three cubic meters of wood
• 12.5 kg of binder
• A pellet press
• A grinder
Step Two: Make the Ground Material
That’s it, you have your firewood piled up in front of your house. Now you have to cut it into small pieces. For this, you need to equip yourself with a grinder. The goal of this step will be to allow our precisely ground material to enter the pellet mill.
Two passes will be required. A first that will allow us to chop our wood into small pieces of 2 to 3 cm, then a second, this time placing the calibration grid at the exit, to obtain a crushed material of 8 mm in diameter.
All this crushed wood, you can put it in a bucket, a trunk, or any container that does not let it escape. It is precisely at this moment when you can incorporate the sawdust. Be careful, it should not be too powdery, at the risk, once again, that the final product is not the right one.
Note that there is no requirement to have sawdust in your mix. “It’s above all so that it doesn’t spoil,” adds Virginie Gallone.
Third step: add binder
Yes, pellets are not just ground and glued wood.
Let’s say your shredded material landed in a bucket, you need to add binder. The binder comes in the form of a small white powder, and can be bought, this time, in slightly more specialized stores. AgriEuro sells it for just over 30 euros per 20 kg, or 1.5 euros per 1 kg.
“It is used to agglomerate the material”, specifies Virginie Gallone.
Knowing that it is necessary to count between 0.5 and 2% of the weight of the ground material in binder. If you have a ton of crushed material in front of you, you will need between 5 and 20 kg of binder.
Fourth step: pressing the crushed material to make granules
And the fourth step is pressing. Because at the moment, if you have followed everything right, you only have a bucket with crushed wood and some white powder to put everything together.
And it consists simply of introducing your mix into the pellet press. From there, between 50 and 100 kg of pellets per hour can be produced.
Again, this is hardware specific, not found anywhere. The base price is around 1,300 euros, but it depends on the material you choose, and the seller. AgriEuro sells it, but it is not the only one. France Broyeur also offers it, as does ManoMano.
After how long is it profitable?
As you may have understood, it is possible to make pellets, but it is not available to everyone. Eric Vial even describes it as a “false good idea”, and insists that Improperly manufactured granules can be dangerous. : “Yes, this can produce clinker, which can perforate the stove and therefore void its guarantee, but it can also produce gases that could perforate your heating system”.
However, the representative of the sector does not object: “I also represent the interests of the clients. If it is interesting for you, then try it. But at your own risk.”
But then, even if it means taking so many “risks”, is it profitable to make your own pellets? Let’s get out the calculator.
The average French household consumes 2 tons of pellets per year. Therefore, it is necessary to have about 1200 euros of pellets per year if you buy them yourself.
On the other hand, if you want to make them, you have to buy a machine (about 1,300 euros), buy a grinder (about 150 euros), and buy the ingredients, that is, the wood (about 300 euros a ton, so 600 euros) and the binder (30 euros for 20 kg, therefore 37.75 euros to obtain two tons of pellets).
With these data we can therefore draw two curves, one representing the evolution of the amount spent if we buy ready-made pellets, and the other, if we manufacture them ourselves.
If you can’t see the infographic, click here.
This graph allows us to see that after just over two and a half years, the method is already profitable. Note that the calculation is, however, to take with tweezers. In the meantime, the price of wood may increase, and that of ready-made pellets decrease.
Especially since it does not take into account the maintenance of the machines, which is difficult to quantify, nor the time spent on designing these small granules.
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