Highland’s commitment to sustainability is at the core of its foundation. Our pledge to operating in a transparent, ethical manner is essential to how we conduct business with our customers, our partners and our own stakeholders. That commitment extends beyond the current U.S. standards, as we will also be in complete compliance with stringent European standards provided by the Sustainable Biomass Program. We are in the business of delivering sustainable fuel products – that business can only be achieved by making sustainability a core principle.
In production, our commitment to sustainability extends to minimizing our energy use in both our pellet production and transport logistics. All our pellet material is dried using waste wood rather than natural gas. Each Highland pellet plant will undertake a detailed independent sustainability audit every year to ensure our fiber supply is sourced and used to the high sustainability regulations required by our customers.
How We Do It
Highland started producing pellets at its wood pellet manufacturing facility in Pine Bluff, Arkansas in December 2016. The wood pellets are exported to Europe to be used as a cleaner replacement fuel for coal in electricity generating stations. All of the wood pellets produced by Highland in Pine Bluff are transported efficiently by Union Pacific on mainline rail to the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Highland Pellets carefully monitors the transportation distance and associated greenhouse emissions to ensure the Greenhouse Gas emissions associated with wood pellets remains low.
Greenhouse Gas Efficiency
Although wood is one of the oldest sources of energy, modern technology now enables it to be processed into densified pellets that can be efficiently transported to power stations overseas. Even after allowing for the energy spent in collecting the wood, processing it into pellets and transporting the pellets by ship to Europe, the amount of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) released from burning the pellets is around 80% less than if the power station in Europe burned coal. Highland Pellets uses carbon calculators approved by the European Commission’s REDII protocols to monitor its greenhouse gas emissions. This allows Highland Pellets to monitor its emissions and look to make continuous improvements where possible.
There is 49 Million tons of standing softwood Pulpwood within 75 miles of Pine Bluff. Our pellet facility in Pine Bluff will utilize up to 1.7 million tons per year of wood feedstock or ‘fiber’ taken from sustainably managed private working forests in the local area. Highland is built to use both softwood and hardwoods, but avoids species with environmental ramifications such as cypress. The growth to drain ratio for softwood within 75-miles of Pine Bluff is 2.2, meaning that for every 1 unit of softwood that dies naturally or is harvest, 2.2 units are planted. The growth to drain ratio for hardwoods in the area (75 mile radius from Pine Bluff) is 1.4.
Sources of Fiber
Fiber is sourced from thinnings, non-merchantable low-grade round wood and treetops from the surrounding private forests, as well as ‘mill residual’ products such as chips, bark and sawdust from local sawmills. This provides a route for sawmills to dispose of their waste products and ensures that less waste is produced from the timber supply chain. Highland will not source any wood from protected sources or if the wood has a higher value in an alternative market.
What is Excluded from Our Supply Chain?
All the following is excluded from our supply chain:
- Fiber from Conservation lands
- Areas of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
- Saw logs
- Longleaf pine
What is Commercial Thinning?
Commercial thinning is considered a best practice common in timber management where a portion of the standing timber is removed. Forest thinnings are young smaller trees, typically around 10 inches in diameter at the base, which must be removed from the commercial forest to allow more light and nutrition for the remaining trees to grow to full size. Trees removed during thinning are too small to be used as quality saw logs and so stands without a market outlet for thinnings are often left to struggle to grow. There are several methods of commercial thinning, whether it is selecting every other tree, removal of a row, or a combination of both. The type of thinning performed is determined by the initial stocking and the desired volume and design of the remaining stand.
The Numerous Benefits of Commercial Thinning
- Improving forest health by removing poor quality, deformed trees and strategic portions of the stand of fiber, allowing the remaining stand greater access to light, water and nutrients to increase productivity and growth into higher value products
- Capturing fiber from trees that would otherwise die from overcrowding
- Lowering fire hazard and susceptibility to insects and disease
- Allowing the landowner access to another source of revenue
- Allowing for visual and volume variety in an otherwise similar age group of timber
- Modifying the stand structure for the benefit of wildlife habitat or biodiversity
Unwanted Tree Tops Can Be Used to Make Pellets
A stand of timber has a point of maturation where both the economic and health of the stand begin to decline. This is when a land manager will typically perform a final harvest. During this stage, most of the fiber is sorted for higher value products such as saw timber, ply logs and poles. There is, however, also a need for a market for the unwanted treetops and lower quality wood fiber that are not usually merchantable from any timber stand. Tree tops that are left over from the harvesting of saw logs and telephone poles are either burned or left to rot if they can’t be sold. The tops, branches and smaller poor-quality trees that will not meet the criteria for higher value products is an important part of the fiber mix for our facility at Pine Bluff, thereby enabling a greater use of every tree. Access to this market will add to the economic value of forests for local landowners who have invested in the region and will encourage those landowners to continue forest management in the Pine Bluff area.
Managed Forests Are Better for the Environment
Forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and therefore play a crucial role in reducing global GHG emissions. A forest that has been well managed is more likely to be healthy, provide environmental and biodiversity benefits and absorb more carbon dioxide from the air than if the same forest contained over-crowded trees competing for light, water and nutrients.
Managed Forest Standards
We don’t use any large trees that have greater value as saw logs or poles – we simply can’t afford to. All the tree thinnings have low commercial value with limited local demand. Nor do we source any wood from virgin forests or areas with protected species. Every truck load of wood used by Highland is tracked and traced verifying its origin from commercial forests which are proven to meet the high sustainability standards of the European market. This means that Highland must demonstrate that the wood it is using is sourced from legal and sustainable sources which do not harm the local environment, wildlife or local inhabitants.
Sustainable Biomass Program
Highland has to provide the European authorities with detailed evidence of where it is purchasing its wood. This requires compliance with a European standard known as the Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP) which demands more evidence than is provided through local sustainable forest programs.
Landowner Stake in Sustainability
The responsible thinning and harvesting of working forests ensure that local landowners have a stake in the growth and sustainability of their holdings. It provides a needed incentive for these owners to reinvest into growing their working forests. This in turn supports a much needed ‘in-woods’ industry that many families rely on for their livelihoods and is an economic driver for rural areas. Highland has heard time and again from a cross section of local citizens who have delayed thinning their working forests for many years because there are insufficient markets to sell their wood. Forests that are not thinned will become over-crowded so that the value and quality of the holdings will deteriorate over time.