Abstract Softwood pellets from three different Swedish manufacturers were burnt in laboratory scale to determine compounds emitted. The emissions were sampled on Tenax cartridges and assessed by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. No large differences in the emissions from pellets from different manufacturers were observed. The major primary semi-volatile compounds released during flaming burning were 2-methoxyphenols from lignin. The methoxyphenols are of interest due to their antioxidant effect, which may counteract health hazards of aromatic hydrocarbons. Glowing combustion released the carcinogenic benzene as the predominant aromatic compound. However, the benzene emissions were lower than from flaming burning. To relate the results from the laboratory burnings to emissions from pellet burners and pellet stoves, chimney emissions were determined for different burning equipments. The pellet burner emitted benzene as the major aromatic compound, whereas the stove and boiler emitted phenolic antioxidants together with benzene. As the demand for pellets increases, different biomass wastes will be considered as raw materials. Ecological aspects and pollution hazards indicate that wood pellets should be used primarily for residential heating, whereas controlled large-scale combustion should be preferred for pellets made of most other types of biomass waste.