Heating: can you make your own pellets and is it financially profitable?

It is possible to make your own pellets, but it is not easy. (©fotofabrika / Adobe Stock)

Since the war in Ukraine broke out, and with it, the price of electricity increased, many people turned to pellets for heating. It is a small wood pellet placed in a stove made especially to receive it.

But like everything, the price of pellets has increased significantly in recent months: “almost doubled since last summer”, said Eric Vial, director of Propellet, the national association of heating professionals of wood pellets for the previous article.balita.fr.

Today, the ton is bought for about 600 euros. At the beginning of 2021, it is necessary to calculate 300, 350 euros

Eric VialDirector of Propellet

Due to this significant price increase, many are wondering if it is possible to make one yourself. And the answer is yes, but you need to know a little about it. Details.

First step: choosing and recovering the tree

The manager of AgriEuro, a European company that buys agricultural and gardening equipment, Virginie Gallone explains that the wood must be chosen carefully: “it must be clean and fresh. It should not lie there for a long time, because it should have about 10% humidity so that the pellet will hold well once formed”.

This wood can also be obtained directly from the forest, but in this case the drying period must be respected to reach the required moisture level.

To do this, we can use a hygrometer to measure the moisture content of the selected wood. This type of material can be found in any DIY store, and on many websites, such as AgriEuro.

Be careful, it is important not to get straw, hay, or worse: skin. “This type of wood damages the material and produces poor quality pellets”, insists Eric Vial.

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You should not have more than 40% resinous wood in your choice: “resin, it sticks and it damages the machinery”, says Virginie Gallone.

The woods that make an excellent pellet according to Virginie Gallone:​​​​”beech, birch, poplar and oak”.

If one wants input Sawdust in the mixture is possible, but it should not be too powdery. “At the limit, a coarse sawdust mixed with chopped wood (the chopped wood editor’s note) after the fact is better than a fine powder”

It takes a little less than 3 cubic meters of wood for one ton of pellets.

The “ingredients” needed for the artisanal production of pellets

For one ton of pellets, you will need:

• less than three cubic meters of wood
• 12.5 kg binder
• A pellet press
• A grinder

Second step: making the soil material

That’s it, you piled your tree in front of your house. Now you need to cut it into small pieces. For this, you need to equip yourself with a grinder. The goal of this step is to allow our cut material, precisely, to enter the pellet press.

Two passes are required. The first will allow us to make our wood into small pieces of 2 to 3 cm, then the second, this time by placing the calibration grid in the outlet, to obtain a cut material of 8 mm in diameter.

All this crushed wood, you can put in a bucket, tree, or any container where it will not escape. It is precisely at this time that you can include sawdust. Be careful, it must not be too powdery, at the risk, once again, that the final product is not suitable.

The cut material must not be too fine, otherwise the pellet will not hold.
The cut material must not be too fine, otherwise the pellet will not hold. (©AgriEuro)

Note that there is no obligation to have sawdust in the mix. “It’s more important not to spoil it,” added Virginie Gallone.

Step three: add the binder

Yes, pellets are not just wood that is ground and glued together.

Let’s say your cut material lands in a bucket, you need to add it binder. The binder comes in the form of a small white powder, and can be purchased, at this time, in slightly more specialized stores. AgriEuro sells it for just over 30 euros for 20 kg, or 1.5 euros for 1 kg.

“It is used to agglomerate the material”, specifies Virginie Gallone.

It is known that it is necessary to count between 0.5 and 2% of the weight of the soil material in the binder. If you have a ton of cut material in front of you, you will need between 5 and 20 kg of binder.

Fourth step: press the crushed material to make pellets

And the fourth step is pressure. For now, if you’ve followed everything carefully, you’ll just have a bucket of crushed wood and a little white powder to hold it all together.

And it just consists of inserting your mixture into the pellet press. From there, you can make between 50 and 100 kilos of pellets per hour.

This is what a pellet press looks like.
This is what a pellet press looks like. (©AgriEuro screenshot)

Again, this is specific hardware, which cannot be found anywhere else. The base price is around 1300 euros, but it depends on the material you choose, and the seller. AgriEuro sells it, but it’s not the only one. France Broyeur also offers it, as does ManoMano.

After how long will it be profitable?

As you understand, it is possible to make pellets, but it is not accessible to everyone. Eric Vial even qualified it as a “false good idea”, and insisted on the fact that Improperly made pellets can be dangerous : “Well, it produces clinker, which can puncture the stove and thus void its warranty, but in addition, it produces gases that can puncture your heating system”.

However, the representative of the sector is not opposed: “I also represent the interests of customers. If it is interesting for you, then try it. But at your own risk.”

But then, even if it means taking a lot of “risks”, is it worthwhile to make your own pellets? Let’s get the calculator.

The average French household consumes 2 tons of pellets per year. Therefore it is necessary to calculate about 1200 euros of pellets per year if you buy them yourself.

On the other hand, if you want to make it, you have to buy a machine (about 1300 euros), buy a grinder (about 150 euros), and buy the ingredients, which is wood (about 300 euros a ton, so 600 euros) and the binder (30 euros for 20 kg, so 37.75 euros to get two tons of pellets).

With these data, we can draw two curves, one representing the evolution of the amount spent if we buy ready pellets, and the other, if we produce them ourselves.

If you can’t see the infographic, click here.

This graph allows us to see that after more than two and a half years, the method is already profitable. Please note that the calculation however to be removed with tweezers. The price of wood may increase in the meantime, and the pellets that have been made, will decrease.

Especially since it does not take into account the maintenance of the machines, which is difficult to quantify, nor the time spent designing these small pellets.

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