There is a lot of confusion and obfuscation in the market on the question of wood-pellet standards, specifications, analysis, quality management systems and accreditation. For instance, we have lost count of the number of times we have seen "pellets to EN 14961 standard" stipulated by clients and their consultants, without realising (apparently) that this is an essentially meaningless stipulation. It is in our interests and yours for there to be clarity on the meaning of terms, so that you know exactly what you need and what you are being offered (by us, and by less scrupulous suppliers who try to use this confusion to their advantage). We have listed below brief descriptions of the terms, and have provided more detail on each term on pages that you can reach by clicking on the terms.
- The yardstick by which the product is measured and described, usually defined by a national (e.g. BSI, DIN, ASI/ÖNorm or SIS) or international (e.g. CEN or ISO) body. The standard does not determine the quality of the product, but the characteristics by which the product can be described and the sampling methodologies and tests that can be used to measure those characteristics. Some standards include indicative specifications, but reference to the general standard does not imply reference to an indicative specification within that standard, which must be referenced specifically.
- A set of characteristics of the product, which a supplier guarantees that the product will match or exceed. The product will almost never match the specification precisely, but must always be at least as good as the specification in terms of each characteristic described in the specification. As the product is almost always (by definition) better than the specification, it is nonsensical to compare the analysis of a sample of one supplier's product with other suppliers' specifications for the same product.
- A set of tests carried out on a product to assess the characteristics of that product. The results from analysis of a properly-collected sample of a product should always match or exceed the specification of that product, or else the product is "non-conformant" with its specification. The analysis is the most accurate description of the actual product, but even this figure does not necessarily describe the average quality of the whole stock of the product. Even a properly-collected sample may not match the average quality of the whole, because of random variation within the stock. The specification must allow for this variation.
- Management Systems
- Systems developed and implemented by an organisation to ensure that its goods and services are supplied with suitable care and to the standard specified, that any weaknesses are identified and corrected, and that the procedures for supplying the product take due account of aspects such as quality, environmental impact, and health & safety. The quality of the product depends not just on the supplier's specification, but on the care with which the supplier ensures that the product meets the specification, including handling and service as well as production, and the way in which the supplier acts to identify and correct problems. Arguably, the management systems that the supplier implements should be the factor of most significance to the confidence of the customer.
- Accreditation (aka Assurance)
- A scheme for an independent body to verify that a company is implementing the systems and supplying goods to the standard that it claims. Accreditation is one way for customers to gain the confidence they need in the supplier's systems (rather than taking on faith that the supplier will meet the specification it stipulates). It is perfectly possible for suppliers to operate effective systems without accreditation. Absence of accreditation does not mean that a supplier is not supplying good-quality product in accordance with effective quality systems, but does mean that the customer will have to do more work to verify the supplier's credibility. The value of accreditation depends on the rigour of the accreditation scheme and the thoroughness of the accrediting body.
Hopefully, from these brief descriptions, it is clear why it is meaningless:
- simply to reference a standard (like EN 14961) when describing the quality of wood pellets,
- to compare the analysis of a sample of one supplier's wood pellets with the specification of other suppliers' wood pellets, and
- to rely on a supplier's specification without knowing how far they can be relied on to (a) meet their specification and (b) implement the systems for handling, delivery, customer-support, etc. that are necessary accompaniments to the specification to ensure that the customer experience is as satisfactory as possible.