In Estonia, a small Baltic country with 1.3 million people and an outsized tech sector, IT startups have been the most successful global exports. Now, a more traditional industry has risen among them: Graanul Invest, a wood pellet producer that has made its biggest shareholder Raul Kirjanen one of Estonia's richest men. Only Enviva, the US pellet producer, sells more pellets annually than Graanul Invest.
But this business comes at a price. This industry relies on billions of euros from European taxpayers, which ensure that the burning of Estonian wood-pressed pellets in the power plants of Western Europe is profitable. This heavily subsidised demand for biomass pellets in Western European countries means more deforestation in Estonia. Certification has not stopped the sourcing of whole trees for pellet production, although the sector in some cases had declared itself to be strongly carbon-negative.
Estonian business daily Äripäev and the Estonian Public Broadcasting’s investigative show Pealtnägija (Eye Witness) unraveled this controversial business.