New Brunswick should capitalize on the increasingly lucrative biomass energy sector by establishing a market for wood pellets, urges an Austrian industry researcher.

“You have the resources, and the technologies are available in Canada and worldwide; this is paradise for the wood pellet industry,” Walter Haslinger said Wednesday.

Haslinger is in Saint John this week for a bio-energy conference hosted by the Atlantica Centre for Energy. The researcher has studied the wood pellet market in Austria since it was established more than 10 years ago, and said New Brunswick could reap similar benefits the industry brought to his country. Haslinger said while residential installation costs for a wood pellet boiler is about double that of an oil furnace, the price of wood pellet fuel is about half of that of oil.

“Compared to heating oil, using wood pellets is clearly the cheaper and more economic way to provide heat and hot water to private households,” he said.

Citing a Switzerland study, Haslinger said the industry creates three times more jobs than fossil fuel-burning industries because of the intensive nature of the manufacturing process. As the Austrian industry has been active since 1997, Haslinger said, New Brunswick stands to benefit from the lessons the European industry learned after facing many problems.

He said the industry has been able eliminate sulfur content from emissions, for example, and develop quality standards for raw material. Haslinger’s call for a wood pellet market in New Brunswick is echoed by University of New Brunswick Fredericton researcher George Jenkins, who said government appears reluctant to add the source of fuel to the province’s energy mix.

“We have this mentality that wood is a low-grade fuel, it can’t be burned efficiently and it pollutes the environment,” said Jenkins, who is also attending the bio-energy conference. “I’ve seen furnaces in Austria that could burn fire wood with 90-per-cent efficiency. That’s better, or just as good, as your gas furnace.” Jenkins said a wood pellet market would allow New Brunswick to glean its energy source from its own natural resources rather than importing fuel from abroad.

“We could be burning our own fuel, we could be putting our people to work running pellet mills, running refining processes,” he said.

Nackawic-based Pellet Systems International has been manufacturing pellet-producing equipment for the past three years, with major customers south of the border. Company president and chief executive James Woodford said he would like to see his customer base remain in the province.

“We have tens of thousands of New Brunswickers unemployed in the forestry industry, and this could be a real generator that not only creates economic benefits, but also creates a sustainable energy that helps the environment,” he said. “We seem to be having a difficult time getting through to the provincial government on this.”