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Biomass Bandits

Several Alberta logging contractors are diversifying their operations, using wood grinders and chippers from Bandit Industries to offer biomass production and pine beetle control services.

By Tony Kryzanowski  

It’s called the Bandit “Beast” for a reason: how much wood fibre it can grind in a day. Alberta logging contractor D & J Isley is using the grinder to demonstrate its capabilities for producing hog fuel from forest slash.

More Bandits are showing up in the backwoods of northwestern Alberta, but these aren’t packing a six gun and a bottle of tequila. These are Bandit Industries’ wood chippers and horizontal grinders that area loggers are using to test the demand for locally-produced wood biomass, as well as to address the mountain pine beetle control issue. For the past year, D & J Isley and Sons Contracting Ltd, one of Alberta’s largest logging contractors, has been offering wood grinding services to area forest companies, using a Bandit Industries 3680 Beast Recycler.

 “We came across a few opportunities to dispose of unmerchantable or unwanted timber,” says company operations manager Cory Isley. And the Beast has delivered. “Production-wise, the Bandit 3680 has met all my expectations.” So far the company has helped companies conduct a variety of residual wood fibre volume and quality studies mainly to determine how much biomass, also known as hog fuel, can be captured from brush piles accumulated after a cutblock has been harvested. At present, the brush piles are burned. So far, the company has conducted tests for Canfor and Weyerhaeuser in Grande Prairie and Millar Western Forest Industries in Whitecourt.

There are two biomass-fueled power generators in and around Grande Prairie, one operated in Grande Prairie by Canfor and the other operated by Weyerhaeuser, beside its sawmill in Grande Prairie County.

 There may be a business opportunity for biomass production as a consequence of the current market downturn for softwood lumber, which has resulted in a number of sawmills taking downtime.

These power plants are depending on a steady supply of wood residuals from these sawmills, and if the mills take downtime, shipping hog fuel from forest cutblocks may be a viable alternative.

Also, a Grande Prairie area forestry company is currently studying the possible addition of a second biomass power generator within the next three years. At present, its existing biomass power facility is being fueled with residual wood from its adjacent sawmill. A second power generator would require a regular supply of wood biomass from area harvesting operations, and D & J Isley wants to be a leader by demonstrating that it has the know-how and equipment to deliver.

Isley says the Bandit 3680 Beast grinder has proven itself very capable of processing both softwood and hardwood residual wood from the northwestern Alberta wood basket. This is the second Bandit 3680 grinder the company has put to work in local forests, and what he likes about this newer model is that its additional horsepower.

Typically, D & J Isley transports the grinder to a cutblock with a tractor trailer, as it is on a tridem wheel assembly and can legally be towed down the highway. The grinder is moved into position next to a brush pile with a John Deere 2054, which is equipped with a clamshell-type attachment. The 2054 also feeds residual wood fibre consisting of stumps, tops and branches, into the grinder.

Isley says everything gets processed, and what comes out the other end is a steady stream of hog fuel, which so far has been either stockpiled on site or loaded directly into chip vans. He has not really noticed any difference between hardwood and softwood feedstock, although the operator can slow the infeed speed down when encountering particularly challenging wood fibre.

A variety of grates with different size openings can be used in the grinder so that the size of the final product can be custom tailored to meet customer demand.

“Size-wise, the Bandit 3680 matches up really well with a single carrier feeding it,” says Isley. Bigger models would require more than one carrier to feed the grinder for it to operate efficiently. Weighing in at 57,500 pounds, the 3680 Beast mill with a 35-inch by 60-inch opening.

Isley says the only challenge they’ve had with the grinder is pulling it from one location to another in the cutblock because the unit is on wheels. He says he can see advantages to either the wheeled or tracked unit, depending on where it is being used. For example, the tracked unit is capable of being self-propelled from one site location to another.

The grinder costs in the neighbourhood of $600,000.

The sudden arrival of the mountain pine beetle into northwestern Alberta sent local government representatives scrambling for ways to effectively control the infestation before it mirrored the disaster currently running its course in parts of British Columbia. They turned to local logging contractors for answers.

 Local logging contractor Vidar Forest Technologies Inc has expanded its business services by offering to chip beetleinfested logs averaging 18 inches in diameter using a Bandit 1590XP hand chipper. Infested trees are chipped as close as possible to the stump, with chips broadcast throughout the surrounding area. The provincial government has established this as an effective control method.

At the D & J Isley operation, the Bandit 3680 Beast grinder at work (right) with a John Deere 2054 equipped with a clamshell-type attachment.

Rick Calvert, operations manager for the company’s mulching division, says Vidar has devised a very efficient beetle control method, and it seems to be meeting expectations. He says it’s working much more efficiently than the method used last year, which essentially was selective logging, skidding and salvaging at roadside.

 “With any selective logging type operation, your biggest cost is getting the tree from the stump to where it can be used,” he says. “We are eliminating that cost.” The service offered by Vidar is not related to logging or to the company’s logging operations. It is a pure beetle control service offered on contract to the municipalities group in the vicinity of the City of Grande Prairie. It is being funded by the provincial and federal governments to manage beetle control on both public and private land.

 Calvert says the initial plan was to try to salvage as much of the wood as possible. However, the quantities of wood being salvaged, the fact that infected trees were quite scattered—coupled with reduced demand for pine due to record low softwood lumber prices—created a situation where operating large-scale salvage operations was not economically viable. However, there was still a need to control the spread of the beetle.

 Calvert says the municipalities group seems to be making good progress with its beetle control plan. “I believe they are succeeding in those areas where they started fairly aggressive control work last year,” he says. “They are getting good co-operation from private land owners to allow them to come in on private land and take out the infected trees.”

 The Bandit 1590XP has proven itself as an effective quick response unit. “It seems to be a very efficient tool for the purpose we are using it for,” says Calvert. The 1590XP is on wheels so it can be pulled to a site behind a half-ton truck. Once on site, it is pulled along existing trails with a small tracked unit to where the chipping will occur. Infected trees are fed into the chipper using a skid steer equipped with a grapple attachment. It takes only one person to manage the entire operation.

 The Bandit chipper is able to handle about 90 per cent of infected wood on any given site. The remaining 10 per cent is typically hand-felled and burned, or in some cases with a significant amount of larger logs, they are skidded to roadside and salvaged. There are some smaller sawmills that have been able to use a portion of the salvaged logs to manufacture wood products.

D & J Isley is also involved in mountain pine beetle control and single tree chipping through Quad L Inc, which is owned by Celsy Isley. The company owns and operates four Bandit chippers.