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Bringing biomass to the Beast
Transporting their Bandit 2680 Hybrid Beast Recycler to the biomass—rather than bringing the biomass to the recycler—is paying off for Ontario logging contractor Don Tucker.
By Tony Kryzanowski
When it comes to harvesting forest biomass to generate power, Fort Frances, Ontario logger Don Tucker understands that profitability for the contractor comes down to one thing: the ‘energy balance’—that is, how much he is spending on fuel to capture and process a fuel source that is used to produce electricity.
Tucker and three other contractors provide 25 per cent of the feedstock required by Resolute Forest Products (formerly AbitibiBowater) in its 47 megawatt power generator at its pulp and paper mill in Fort Frances. Contractors engaged in biomass harvesting have tried all sorts of methods to efficiently gather, process, and deliver clean, boiler-ready biomass to clients, but Tucker believes he has developed one of the most efficient systems. In his biomass harvesting operation, the tracked recycler moves to the forest slash rather than the forest slash being transported to a stationary recycler.
“I would say that 99 per cent of biomass operations out there gather the material and bring it to the grinder,” says Tucker. “I did not want that. I’m an old time logger. I know my costs, like the price of fuel, and I wanted to take the grinder to the material. The only way to do that is to have a very versatile machine.”
There’s something to be said for his system because Tucker’s contract calls for delivery of 40,000 green metric tonnes of hog fuel annually, but he is aiming to increase that by 25 per cent. He is also in the process of purchasing a second recycler.
The backbone of Tucker’s system is a Bandit 2680 Hybrid Beast Recycler used to grind the forest slash. Tucker’s recycler is a hybrid because it combines features from two Bandit recycler models. He was amazed at how Bandit Industries was willing to work with him to develop a recycler that met his needs. The company worked with Tucker to develop a machine with the horsepower and components of its larger 3680 recycler, but the physical size of the 2680. The second feature on this machine that Tucker demanded was his ability to operate it totally by remote control from the excavator loader cab that feeds forest slash into the machine. In Tucker’s mind, this greatly enhances the safety of the worksite and improves efficiency, as no one needs to be around the recycler when it is grinding forest slash and the machine can move from stack to stack of biomass.
“The revolutions per minute on the Bandit recycler are half of what other companies offer, but in order to meet production targets, it needs to cut with double and sometimes triple the number of teeth than other companies use in their products,” says Tucker. “However, because the teeth turn slower, we achieve better bearing life, the machine doesn’t vibrate as much, and above all, the recycler doesn’t throw shrapnel around.”
Tucker has two years of personal experience operating the recycler remotely from the excavator cab and is pleased with both the production of the Bandit 2680 hybrid and its response to remote operation.
“We can move the recycler forward, backward or sideways,” says Tucker. “It gives us total versatility. Remote operation has been a total godsend in terms of the safety aspect. The recycler looks just like an excavator with the only difference being an end feed and a discharge conveyor on it. It was absolutely not a problem at all for Bandit Industries to make it a totally remote control unit. The company is very innovative.”
Tucker challenged Bandit to provide the same size of infeed and capabilities of a 3680 recycler. He says he needed adequate horsepower to meet his production and quality targets, but to get that amount of power, he says his only options initially were huge machines.
“I wanted something that was light and versatile to get around narrower forestry roads,” says Tucker. “Initially, that led me to consider a smaller machine where you don’t have grinding capability. I wanted grinding capability that went along with my small machine, which was a tall order but Bandit was the only one willing to work with me.” He acknowledges that the hybrid does not have the same production as a 3680 recycler, “but it’s darn close. It’s certainly manageable.” This option was also cheaper than purchasing the larger Bandit 3680 recycler. His recycler was the first hybrid manufactured by Bandit, which now offers the unit as an option to its customers.
Don Tucker Limited processes biomass on its own cutblocks as well as on cutblocks harvested by other contractors in the Crossroads forest north of Fort Frances, within about 170 kilometres of the Resolute pulp mill. They usually arrive about a year after an area has been harvested. What’s left in the cutblock by the contractors is usually only about 10 per cent of the entire wood supply, or about 20 tonnes of forest slash per hectare.
Typically what happens in Tucker’s operation is that a site prep excavator will arrive to each production site in advance of the Bandit recycler and its two accompanying support excavators. Its job is to transport and pile the slash scattered in the cutblock close to access roads, creating several mounds of biomass. Tucker says it appears that a number of giant beehives have sprouted up along access roads once the excavator gets to work. The site prep excavator will gather biomass usually within about a 150 foot radius around each pile of forest slash.
When the Bandit recycler arrives, the excavator operator feeding the recycler starts at one end of the access road, feeds the recycler, and then propels it forward from one stack to the next as needed. The processed material is blown into awaiting trucks that position themselves next to the recycler on access roads, and they transport the hog fuel to the pulp and paper mill. The second excavator accompanying the recycler cleans up the site even more, gathering up any remaining biomass that the site prep excavator may not have had time to pile.
What remains is a much cleaner cutblock that Tucker says makes the job of replanting much easier. The major environmental dividend is that all this forest slash that was typically burned in brush piles is now used as hog fuel.
“It’s been really great to see because you don’t have these bush mats lying around any more,” says Tucker. “Resolute is actually picking it up to use as fuel and at the same time they are creating an environment that is very positive for tree planting. Now within a year of the sites being cleaned up, they are planted. I think it is a win-win.”
The terrain in the Crossroads forest that the Bandit recycler operates in is highly variable from completely flat ground to hilly, rocky terrain, so it has proven its versatility. The forest slash recycling operation works 12 hours a day, five days a week, and the company spends about 10 per cent of its time on preventative maintenance on each shift.
Tucker took on his hog fuel production business from a position of strength, given his decades of experience as a conventional stump-to-dump contractor. He, along with his wife Kathi, sons Rod and Andrew Tucker, and stepson, Gregory Ward, operate Don Tucker Limited. In addition to supplying hog fuel to Resolute Forest Products, the company also harvests about 75,000 cubic metres of both hardwood and softwood. The softwood is supplied to Resolute while the hardwood is transported to Ainsworth Engineered Wood Products’ strandboard plant in Barwick, Ontario. Don Tucker Limited harvests about 55 per cent softwood and 45 per cent hardwood. The company’s main logging fleet consists of a Tigercat 860C feller buncher, Tigercat 870C feller buncher, John Deere 848H skidder, John Deere 748G skidder, and a Link-Belt 240 carrier equipped with a Denharco 4400 stroke delimber. Rounding out the logging operation is a Hood 24000 slasher and two Komatsu 220 log loaders. The company operates one Kenworth T800 truck with a Superior five-axle trailer, and hires sub-contractors to transport the remainder of its logs and biomass.
In addition to the Bandit 2680 hybrid recycler, there are two site prep excavators and a loading excavator that work along with it in the biomass recovery operation. One is a John Deere long reach 2154D excavator used in site prep, the second is a Komatsu 220 excavator used to feed the recycler, and the third is a Caterpillar 320 excavator with a long reach boom. This Caterpillar excavator stacks the biomass in advance of the immediate recycling operation, usually about a cutblock ahead. All three excavators are equipped with Rotobec bio-clam attachments.
Tucker says the method used by the company to gather and process the biomass is not only among the most efficient methods, it also produces clean material, largely free of rocks and dirt. Aiming for the production of clean material also results in less equipment maintenance. The company has a high retrieve rate of the forest slash left in the cutblock.
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