The 'End of an Era'
By Chris Wiberg - October 31, 2011
As I write this column, the Pellet Fuels Institute and the American Lumber Standards Committee are nearing completion of an agreement that will dramatically improve the quality of pelletized fuels throughout the United States. This agreement is the direct result of nearly seven years of hard work carried on the backs of dozens of volunteers, thousands of man-hours, and ultimately the heavy hand of the U.S. EPA. During this period, the European Union developed numerous standards for solid biofuels that are now being converted to ISO standards for use around the world and the European Pellet Council has developed and implemented the EN plus certification scheme on an international basis. Finally, many of the largest European wood pellet buyers have come together to develop a standard specification for industrial wood pellets. This process is also nearing completion. We are nearing the end of an era where consumers have had to question "what is in the bag" and where producers take great risk selling into markets with requirements that may be poorly defined, but carry great penalties for noncompliance.
I, personally, take great pride in having been part of making this transition a reality. At times, these efforts have been highly contentious and, believe me, supporting standardization hasn't always been a good political position to be in. However, as these initiatives have progressed, I have witnessed a large shift in the attitudes of many people from vehement rejection to acceptance and even ultimately embracing standardization. This transition has been most apparent when I speak at conferences and is manifested in the tone of the audience. Years ago, other standards developers and I would kid each other over who gets to wear the bull's eye this time, when deliberating who would give the next standards update at a conference. By contrast, in the past year I often find myself on the podium defending why the standards aren't stricter. I consider this a welcome transition and the end of an era where we need to convince people that standardization is a necessity.
This is also the end of an era for me personally. As many of you know I have been a long-time figure at Twin Ports Testing in Superior, Wis. After 12 years of service, I have moved on to the next phase of my professional career. I am now the manager of Biomass Energy Laboratory, which is a joint venture between Timber Products Inspection and Control Union USA. I will also be managing all biomass energy services for Timber Products Inspection including auditing and quality management consulting services. The purpose for my transition is to develop a model for the industry that provides biomass fuel producers and users with all of the services they need to comply with any of these standards and/or certification systems, both domestically and internationally. This is being developed under the umbrellas of BEL, Timber Products Inspection and Control Union USA and includes third-party testing, inspection, auditing, quality management consulting, QA/QC sampling, logistics and sustainability. I will still maintain my role as co-chair of the PFI Standards Committee as well as my participation on the U.S. Technical Advisory Group for ISO TC 238 and other various initiatives I have been part of in the past.
I have enjoyed being part of the development of this industry and look forward to continuing my involvement long into the future. I, for one, am ready for the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
Manager, Biomass Energy Laboratory