We continue with our virtual conversations called The ENplus® Interviews. This month, we will meet you with Andreas Haider who is Technical Consultant (Bioenergy and analytical chemistry) at Holzforschung Austria, and also an ENplus® auditor.
Hello Andreas! Present Holzforschung Austria with a few words.
Holzforschung Austria was founded as a non-profit organization in 1948 and has today 95 employees. We are active in the fields research & development, accredited testing/inspection/certification, and knowledge/technology transfer. Our activities cover the whole supply chain of wood and wood products; from sawn timber and glued wood to timber building and building physics to wood preservation, bioenergy and chemical analytics – for all those topics you can find contact persons with high professional qualification at our institute.
In the bioenergy department we are a group of approx. 10 people, working as auditors, in our laboratory or in the back office. The listed auditors do not only work for ENplus® – they are also involved in biomass research projects which often include activities in our biomass pilot plant. They are active in the biomass standardization process and organize the testing of pellets and another biomass in our laboratory. We believe that this kind of background knowledge is very helpful for the work as auditor in the field, especially when technical expertise is necessary during our inspection audits.
Holzforschung Austria is simultaneously an ENplus certification, inspection, and testing body. Beyond any doubt, it is a huge responsibility. Is it challenging to cover all aspects of the certification process?
It is a big responsibility and it is a challenge, yes. But we believe that having all the relevant steps and processes under our own control makes it easier to guarantee a high level of our certification decisions. All our ENplus® activities (testing, inspection and certification) are covered within the scope of our accreditation.
Accreditation defines a framework of rules we have to follow and guarantees our impartiality. When we make a certification decision and sign a certificate we know that we bear the responsibility for that. This is why we train and monitor our auditors carefully and run our own testing laboratory where we know exactly how all the relevant ENplus® pellet parameters are determined. If we cooperate with external partners we choose them based on the same rules that are effective for our internal resources.
You communicate with many certified traders and producers on a daily basis. In your opinion, what is their number 1 reason to join and remain in the scheme?
I’d say ENplus® is a very well-known certification scheme that has a good reputation on the market. In some regions I think it’s almost impossible to sell wood pellets without this label, especially in regions where ENplus® has the support of all relevant stakeholders (including e.g. boiler and stove manufacturers). At least in Austria, our “home-market”, this is definitely the case.
ENplus® actively combats frauds. As a certification body, you are involved in the follow-up of complaints. Could you share with us what were some of the recent complaints you received and how they were resolved?
There are different reasons for fraud and complaints. Let’s start with fraud: dubious companies may use “fantasy” bag designs that are not approved, fill non-certified pellets in approved bags of traders, or label their products with an ENplus® ID even though they are not certified. Unfortunately, those things happen.
Sometimes, it’s just a misunderstanding of the rules that can be clarified and solved quickly, other times, it’s intentional fraud. Another fraudulent activity we faced were non-certified companies that used fake certificates of Holzforschung Austria to sell their non-certified pellets. This happened several times in the past, the companies were blacklisted immediately by the ENplus® Management after we reported these cases. In case of doubt the validity of our certificates can be checked on our website.
Besides the fraud cases, it can happen that we are involved in complaint cases like the ones that came up in the course of the Market Surveillance Program of ENplus®. If the quality of the certified pellets does not meet the requirements the companies are confronted with this and have to take measures to ensure the quality in the future. Those activities should have a positive effect on the overall quality of the pellets sold on the market in the medium and long term. It’s in the interest of certified companies who take their certification serious to sell a top-quality product, this is why they are usually very cooperative to solve quality issues quickly and effectively.
What advice would you like to give to a company currently applying to get certified? How to get best prepared for the process of certification?
Producers that aim to get a certification should make sure that the pellets already fulfill the ENplus® requirements before the initial certification audit is carried out. Usually, we recommend a preliminary test of the pellet quality to check critical parameters. If there turns out to be a problem with the pellet quality, the production process can still be adapted before the audit.
Furthermore, all devices for the internal quality control tests should be available. A well-equipped internal laboratory is essential for producers to check the pellet quality on a regular basis. A very important aspect in this regard is the qualification of the employees who do the internal tests. Only when they know how to do the testing correctly, the results will be reliable.
For traders, it’s important to have the ability to monitor all their business cases and to provide the necessary information concerning these cases during the audit. If they sell bulk pellets to end-users, the qualification of the employees is also essential to preserve the high pellet quality during delivery. Trainings for quality managers and silo truck drivers provided by the ENplus® Management are a good support for the companies to ensure the required qualification and should be attended as soon as possible.
In your opinion, is the use of high-quality pellets part of Europe’s green future?
Yes of course it is! Wood pellets as a renewable fuel will play an important role in the transition of the energy system besides all the other sources of renewable energy that will be needed to reduce our carbon footprint.
Traditionally, wood pellets are produced from residues that occur as a by-product in the wood processing industry. We believe that with the increased utilization of wood for the construction of buildings and the higher production of wood products in general, there will be enough residues to supply also a growing market of high-quality pellets.
Those pellets are an additional product in the portfolio of the wood processing industry and an attractive option for the end-users to heat their homes with a very low carbon footprint. Currently in Austria, there is a program to replace boilers that use heating oil with renewable systems like boilers that use wood pellets. This is really a big boost for the pellet sector. I’d say this program is a good example how political support can stimulate the necessary transition of the heating market – let’s hope that we will see more of this all over Europe in the coming years!
Andreas Haider, Valerie Minihold, Wilfried Pichler, Daniel Stratev, Monika Steiner, Robert Stocker – ENplus® auditors at Holzforschung Austria