With the development of the wood fuels market in Slovenia, there is an increasing interest in monitoring their prices. Precise and up-to-date information about the market situation is needed for the successful and effective development of wood biomass trade. The unavailability of data on quantities, market flows or prices, constitutes a major barrier to trading, since important strategic decisions need to be made without proper knowledge or market information. The availability of information is therefore the key to ensuring a transparent, competitive and efficient market. While prices of petroleum products are extremely fast and easily accessible, prices of wood fuels are not published on the website of the ministry or any other official site of state authorities. The collection of wood fuels prices is more extensive, because prices depend on quantity, quality, region, provider, time, etc. The Statistical Office of Slovenia only monitors the purchase prices of roundwood from the private sector, where wood for heating is also listed among forest-timber assortments. Prices of firewood, wood chips and pellets are not systematically monitored. Demand for prices of individual wood fuels and the desire for comparison between individual EU countries gave birth to the idea of periodical collection of prices of individual wood fuels from producers. The C.A.R.M.E.N. organization already has a similar system for collecting prices of wood fuels (http://www.carmen-ev.de) and regularly monitors wood fuel prices in Germany.
Since 2011 the Forestry Institute of Slovenia has been monitoring wood fuel prices on the Slovenian market. By 2014, within the framework of the BiomassTradeCentreII project (www.biomasstradecentre2.eu), the prices of wood fuels were also monitored in Austria, Italy, Germany, Spain, Romania, Greece, Ireland and Croatia. Wood fuel prices are monitored twice a year, at the beginning and at the end of the heating season. The analysis includes the most common categories of solid biofuels: billets, chips, pellets and briquettes. Data are collected from web or telephone surveys and analysis of other sources, such as web sites of producers, distributors and printed advertisements.
When collecting data, we often encounter different quantity units; in the case of firewood and wood chips, the suppliers usually refer to cubic meters (m3), stacked cubic meters (stacked m3) or loose cubic meters (Bulk m3), while pellets and briquettes are most often traded by weight (in tons). To facilitate the comparison of the prices of various wood energy products, all prices are quoted by weight (in EUR per ton), where VAT is already included in all those prices. Since conversion of different units is a major problem in wood fuels trading, we have developed an online calculator that makes it easy to convert different units, such as m3 to Bulk m3, MWh or tons. The calculator is available HERE.
The prices of energy products are changing according to their characteristics or quality, while various claims and inadequate declarations quickly mislead consumers. In the following, we are therefore referring to which types of wood fuels prevail in Slovenia and what are their prices. Among the different types of wood fuels firewood is still predominant, followed by wood chips and in recent years wood pellets. Among the producers, the shape and characteristics of wood fuels vary considerably. From this point of view, the market is rather varied, as consumers have a great choice. In the case of firewood, different tree species are available, different sizes (length can range from 20 to 100 cm, diameter from 2 to 15 cm or more) and different humidity (air-dry or moist wood). Wood chips also differ in the degree of processing (or size of the predominant fraction) and water content (dried and green wood chips). In the case of pellets and briquettes, in addition to the mentioned properties, the following are also important: the appropriate particle density or density of plowing, mechanical stability and ash content.
Wood chips are the cheapest form of wood fuels on the market, while prices differ depending on the humidity and the predominant fraction of particles. Because of higher production costs, chips with lower water content and smaller particles are more expensive.
Figure 1: Different prices of wood fuel (in €/MWh) compared to heating oil prices
A comparison of prices of the most common types of wood fuel and heating oil shows a relatively constant price trend, with higher prices at the beginning of the heating season and lower at the end.
Pellets are the most expensive form of biomass. The prices of pellets should depend mainly on quality, but the analysis of the pellets quality on the Slovenian market, carried out in 2016 (the whole study is published on www.s4q.si), show that the price is not always a reflection of their actual quality.
Figure 2: Prices of pellets (in €/t VAT included) during 2011 and 2017
Prices of pellets vary according to the quantity and shape of the packaging. Pellets in bulk or in so-called “Big-bags” are cheaper. The greatest demand is for pellets packed in a 15 kg PVC bag and stacked on the pallet, which is why the price is also slightly higher.
Prices of pellets also differ between different groups of providers; pellets directly from the manufacturer are usually the cheapest, while pellets from distributors can be more expensive.
Figure 3: Prices of pellets (in €/t) according to the way of packaging and place of purchase
In the Slovene market, firewood of various tree species, different humidity (from fresh to air-dry) and dimensions is available. Beech firewood, with humidity of about 20% and length 25 cm is predominant.
Figure 4: Prices of billets (in €/t with VAT) during 2011 and 2017
According to the results of the surveys carried out in previous years on the Slovenian market, wood chips of size class P31 are dominant, followed by classes P45 and P100, and the chips with the dominant fraction from 3.15 mm to 16 mm (P16) are rare. As for the humidity, chips with water content of 10% to 25% (property class M20 and M25) are dominant, followed by those with a humidity of 25% to 35%, or more. The dominant particle size and water content are most dependent on the production process, while the remaining quality parameters depend mainly on the raw material used. Consequently, the parameters mentioned above have the greatest impact on the final price of the product. It is commonly believed that, wood chips with small particles in the predominant fraction and with less water content are more expensive, as more energy is needed for crushing and drying a wood biomass. It is therefore understandable that chips with a predominant fraction of 3.15 to 16 mm (P16) and a water content of less than 10% (M10) are generally more expensive than chips with particle size P100 and humidity M50.
Wood chips with humidity of about 30% and a particle size of about 31 mm are sold the most. The price of the delivered chips is also affected by the transport costs, which are charged either on the number of kilometers traveled or on the quantity of delivered chips. Usually, the price of chips without delivery is up to 16% lower.
Figure 5: Prices of wood chips (in €/t with VAT) during 2011 and 2017
Briquettes are often used as a substitute for firewood (mostly in fireplaces). Their advantage over firewood is higher energy density (which is reflected in longer combustion times). Due to the raw material used and the manufacturing process, the content of water in briquettes is usually from 12 to 15%. Differences in price can be observed between different packaging methods; the cheapest briquettes are in bulk and most expensive packed at 10 kg in bags or boxes.
Figure 6: Briquettes prices (in €/t with VAT) during 2011 and 2017
In Austria statistics on wood fuel prices are collected and reported by agencies at the provincial and federal levels (Vinterbäck and Porsö, 2011). Prices of timber fuels are collected monthly; The Austrian Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry (Landwirtschafkammer Österreich) publishes prices of wood chips and the price index of wood energy products (Energieholzindex). The latter consists from a "basket" of key wood assortments, such as firewood, industrial round wood and side products of sawmills. The prices of pellets are recorded by the Association of pellets producers proPellets Austria. In Germany, statistics on wood chips and pellets prices are managed by the agency C.A.R.M.E.N. The prices of pellets are also monitored monthly by the German Association of Pellet Manufacturers (DEPV). However, the Statistical Office reports on the price index of wood fuels that takes chips, pellets, briquettes and industrial round wood into account.
Price collection within the EU BiomassTradeCentres II project, between 2011 and 2014, showed that prices vary from one country to another, depending mainly on the type of wood fuel (Figure 6).
Learn more about wood fuels and the quality system for wood pellets on the S4Q website.