Pellet grills are quickly becoming a popular choice for backyard chefs due to their low cost and the ability to smoke food at low temperatures. But are they environmentally friendly? In this post, we’ll look at the environmental impact of pellet grills and compare them to charcoal and gas grills.
So, are pellet grills environmentally friendly? Yes, pellet grills are environmentally friendly if the wood pellets are dry and are of high quality that produces lesser dense smoke and ash. Moreover, the pellet grill needs to be clean i.e. free from ash, grease, and carbon buildup, and sawdust to produce clean smoke. Another reason why pellet grills are environmentally friendly is that they consume very small electrical energy to operate. In this way, pellet grills do not put a burden on the environment in terms of energy requirements.
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What Are Environmentally Friendly Products?
The products are environmentally friendly if they don’t cause global warming in the environment. Every product or source which increases the concentrations of greenhouse gases i.e. carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, oxides of Sulphur, nitrous oxide, and methane in the atmosphere is said to be the culprit of the environment. The three major environmental concerns are acid rain, global warming, and depletion of the Ozone layer.
The products that we use daily can impact the environment if not made from sustainable materials. There are plenty of everyday items we use that can be harmful to the environment if not produced sustainably. For example, using a straw made from plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose in the landfill.
Moreover, plastic also causes global warming as it produces by decomposition of oil, gas, and coal/ Alternatively, using a bamboo straw helps reduce plastic waste and supports the growth of bamboo forests which helps absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
How Are Pellet Grills Environmentally Friendly?
There are the following reasons that prove that pellet grills are environmentally friendly:
- Minimum electricity consumption
- Clean energy source i.e. compressed wood pellets
- Controlled operating environment
Pellet Grills Consume Less Electricity
There is no doubt pellet grill is an electronic machine. But it is not like other electrical appliances like electric heaters, geysers, and electric ovens having a huge electricity consumption. In pellet grills, there are only three components that consume electricity:
- Ignition rod
- Induction fan
- Auger motor
Each time the pellet grill is turned from shutdown to the smoke setting, the ignition rod keeps getting red hot for the first five minutes. The ignition rod in the firepot of a pellet grill consumes electricity in the initial burning phase when the wood pellets are started feeding in the firepot from the auger.
This is the highest electric consumption phase of a pellet grill that consumes 250 to 750 watts of electricity in the first 5 to 10 minutes, no matter if it is a conventional controller pellet grill or the one with a PID controller. The time during which the ignition rod keeps turning on can increase if there is cold outside. So, it will result in consuming more power. When a pellet grill is fully ignited, the ignition rod shuts off.
After the wood pellets are burnt, the induction fan and auger motor consume electric power. In conventional pellet grills, the auger motor turns on and off at regular intervals while the fan keeps on turning at constant velocity.
On the other hand, in pellet grills with PID controllers, auger and fan are continuously turning, but their speed keeps on changing to maintain the set temperature. In this phase of pellet grill operation, usually, less than 50 watts of electricity is consumed, which is nothing if we compare it with the electric consumption of other electrical appliances.
The reason why the electricity factor is included for the justification of the eco-friendly feature of pellets is that the energy resources are utilized to produce the electric power. In the USA, natural gas and coal contribute to the majority of electricity production. Natural gas and coal are non-renewable resources, which increase carbon dioxide concentration in the ambient air.
More electric consumption means more energy resources will be utilized to produce electricity. Since pellet grills consume negligible power, they don’t have a significant impact on the increase of carbon dioxide in the air, and thus pellet grills can be considered eco-friendly.
Pellet Grills Use Clean Energy Resource
Pellet grills use wood pellets that are made from sawdust of hardwood by pressing it under high pressure and temperature. All wood pellets are equal in size due to which they are burnt evenly. Moreover, high-quality wood pellets do not contain binders, filler wood, or other chemicals that can result in inefficient combustion and more ash content.
The sawdust used to make wood pellets is called biomass. Biomass is a renewable source of energy as it can’t be depleted. Using biomass as fuel helps maintain the carbon dioxide ecosystem. Trees grow from the energy of the sun and use carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to convert it into biomass i.e. cellulose, lignin, sugar, etc. And when we use them as a source of energy, carbon dioxide is again released into the atmosphere.
So, instead of letting the trees decay or letting them transform into overcrowded forests, we can use the wood of trees as a source of energy.
There are companies like Traeger that add chemicals in wood pellets to improve binding power and enhance flavor. Such wood pellets do not burn cleaner and produce a lot of ash if you burn them at low temperatures in a pellet grill. On the other hand, high-quality wood pellets, such as Lumberjack, Cookin, and Weber are 100% natural and burn cleaner. You can check my guide on using Weber pellets in the Traeger grill to learn more.
Pellet Grills Operate Under Controlled Environment
Pellet grills are not like conventional grills, such as burning charcoal in a fire pit or offset smoker, where we have no control over the production of smoke. Pellet grills are based on controllers that ensure the controlled and efficient combustion of wood pellets as the induction fan is circulating sufficient air through the firepot of a pellet grill, and the auger is supplying a suitable quantity of pellets based on the designed control system of a pellet grill. High-end grills, such as Recteq have PID controllers in their all pellet grill models.
In pellet grills with PID controllers, you don’t even have to open the lid in the initial firing phase. Just keep the lid closed, follow the procedure in the owner’s manual and you’re all set.
Note that if any part of your pellet grill is malfunctioning or you are not following the procedures according to the owner’s manual of your respective pellet grill, it could start giving off a nasty smoke that might add pollution to the environment.
For instance, if you have a Traeger Pro 575 pellet grill, you can follow the instructions in the video below to start it properly.
Pellet Grills vs Charcoal Grills Environmental Impact
Charcoal grills give off more concentration of greenhouse gases in the environment compared to pellet grills due to the following reasons:
- Properties of charcoal
- Absence of controller in charcoal grills
- Charcoal is not easier to dispose
Properties of Charcoal
Charcoal can be man-made or a natural product. Natural charcoal is mined by digging the surface of the earth. It is produced by fossil fuels that are buried under the earth billions of years ago. The heat and absence of oxygen underneath the earth’s surface convert it into charcoal. Such a type of coal is non-renewable.
However, coal can also be artificially made by burning wood logs, scraps, and chunks in the absence of air at a very high temperature (above 750 Fahrenheit). The high enough temperature does not burn the wood. Instead, it converts it into activated carbon. This is called lump charcoal, and it is a renewable resource.
Since there are no additives in lump charcoal like wood pellets, their smoke is also cleaner if sufficient air is supplied. However, that doesn’t mean that lump charcoal has no bad impact on the environment. This is because the high temperature during the charcoal production process has already produced enough greenhouse emissions in the environment.
For wood pellets, around 200 Fahrenheit is required to soften lignin protein, which is very less compared to the temperature required for coal production. So, this justifies that the wood pellets are eco-friendly compared to the charcoal.
In addition, coal production needs deforestation of forests, while wood pellets can be produced from recycled sawdust of hardwood or wood chips. So, carbon dioxide in the environment is not increased if we focus on wood pellets as the trees will balance it by converting environmental carbon dioxide into sugar and protein.
Absence of Controller in Charcoal Grills
In charcoal grills, such as Weber Kettle, there is no controller like pellet grill for controlled combustion and necessary smoke production by regulating the airflow through an induction fan. In charcoal grills, there is natural convection as no fan is installed to force the airflow.
In charcoal grills, airflow and thus, combustion of charcoal is controlled by manually opening or closing the damper on the top of the lid or at the bottom. Since this is a manual process, it can cause inefficient combustion and the production of harmful gases in the environment.
Charcoal Is Not Easier To Dispose Of
Since Charcoal is carbon, it is not degraded like wood pellets. It can stay in landfills for years and emit greenhouse gases. On the other hand, wood pellets are soft as they are made from sawdust. Moreover, wood pellets are biodegradable. So, it is easier to dispose of them.
Pellet Grills vs Gas Grills Environmental Impact
Gas grills operate on either natural gas or propane. Combustion of propane or natural gas produces much cleaner smoke compared to wood pellets and charcoal. Gas grills do not have a direct negative impact on the environment. But, if we consider indirect aspects, we find that gas grills are a bit ahead of pellet grills in terms of global warming.
The first aspect is that natural gas or propane is a non-renewable energy resource. These gases are produced by the heating of crude oil extracted from the earth. Carbon dioxide gas is produced while burning crude oil contributes to global warming.
Some Important Points to Keep Pellet Grills Environmentally Friendly
Here are some important points you should consider to keep your pellet grill eco-friendly.
- Follow proper initial startup procedure of your pellet grill according to the manual
- Use high-quality wood pellets
- Wood pellets should be dry
- Avoid grease, ash, and sawdust buildup inside the pellet grill
- Vents and chimney should be clean i.e. there is no carbon soot buildup
- Avoid smoking at low temperatures i.e. less than 225 Fahrenheit if you’re using a pellet grill in winters
- Make sure the induction fan is working properly. You can check my guide on pellet grill parts troubleshooting