The Navigator Company Environmental Challenge – New usages for Pellets

The Navigator Company was seeking for new different utilizations for Wood Grain (Pellets).

Pellets are produced from clean wood, from the cleaning of forests, and wood industry waste (biomass). It is shredded and dried, becoming a “sawdust” product, which is then compressed at high pressure and temperature to remove moisture and resins. The result is a 100% natural product, with about 3 times higher calorific value than wood.

The CO and CO2 released by pellets is very low, matching that absorbed by the source trees themselves during their growth, and released while their decomposing in the environment.

Pellets are considered clean fuel, because during combustion in boilers, the emission of chemical compounds is very low. So, the burning of pellets is one of the least polluting energy extraction means.

To date, wood pellets were only used for heating, both in the industrial and in the domestic markets, and also for pet bedding.

European Union is the main driver in the market of wood pellets. In 2010, EU consumed 9.8 million tons of wood pellets of which 2.2 million tons were imported.

Colombus Energy is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Navigator Company, with headquarters in South Carolina, USA. Columbus Energy has just finished building in 2016 a world-class pellets factory with a capacity of 500,000 tons/year, i. e., 5% of world capacity for industrial consumers. It is the third largest pellet factory in the USA and represents a 110 million US$ investment.

Therefore, Columbus Energy seeks to identify further utilizations for wood pellets, as finished product. In case development would be required, it could not exceed 6 months. Markets might be B2B or B2C.

These new usages should at least require 50,000 to 100,000 pellet tons/year.

The challenge was online for 60 days attracting attention from researchers at universities, research centres, start-ups and spin-offs.

InoCrowd received 17 valid innovative solutions, i. e., meeting all required criteria.

The proposed solutions showed very different applications, from ecological and environmental protection and/or recovery, to construction, automotive industry… Market estimates in many cases reaches billions of US$ in just 5 years.

The winning solution aimed at a market estimated in more than $5 million by 2021.

This solution shows the huge advantage of using pellets as raw material, benefiting from its high density and low moisture content, which facilitate transportation and storage, while representing also very favourable economic factors, in terms of energy and ecological impact.

The solutions were evaluated by The Navigator Company’s Innovation Department.

The winning project is from a researcher from the Faculty de Engineering of University of Porto – Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto (FEUP).


Statement: Eng. Carlos Coelho – Mill Manager

InoCrowd platform is an efficient and very low cost way to find innovative solutions all around the world. Our goal was to find partners that would use black liquor in their production or processes or that could replace some compound with black liquor, and also find reliable partners to use this process.