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TimberWest November/December 2013

May/June 2015

Photo of the Schlafer team at Covelo, Calif., with Paul Shandel on the left, loader operator, Ramon Echeverria, in the center and Antone Schlafer on the right.

Nothing Stands in Schlafer’s Way
Schlafer and his small logging crew don’t know the meaning of impossible, and that is one of the keys to his success.

IFG’s Wood-Eating Machine
Idaho Forest Group (IFG) recently unveiled its new HewSaw SL250 3.4 installation at the 2015 Small Log Conference.

Cold Winter Bumps Up Demand for Pellets
Purcell Premium Pellets, based
in Hauser, Idaho, talks pellets.

New Cable Yarder Takes to the Woods
T-Mar sees the need for a new steep slope cable yarder specifically designed to address the increasing volumes of second-growth timber.

Keeping the Wheels Turning
Ever since Joel Olson built his first logging road and bought his first three log trucks, innovation and attention to detail have been key to his business.

Top Five Causes of Forest Equipment Fires
Although most machines are equipped with fire suppression systems, operators can take steps to help prevent fires.

Tech Review
Firewood Processing Equipment


In the News

Association News

Machinery Row

New Products

Guest Column





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Idaho Forest Group (IFG)Cold Winter Bumps up Demand for Pellets

By Barbara Coyner

In my neck of the woods (Idaho), it seems like every tenth vehicle rolling down Highway 95 is a chip truck, hauling wood chips from a mill to a co-generation plant or some manufacturer making use of what used to be considered wood “waste.”

There is huge competition for such woody biomass, and one customer vying for some of the spoils is Purcell Premium Pellets, based in Hauser, Idaho. The completely upgraded pellet mill has been online, churning out pellets for about two years now, and with the recent record-breaking cold winter in the East, product demand for such premium wood pellets remains very high.

Now retired from the pellet business, Jim Fairchild knows the industry well. He and his business partners upgraded the already-existing mill a couple of years ago, balancing the new facility with a companion energy log manufacturing plant at Moyie Springs, Idaho.

Finding Material

Jim led a number of us on a tour of the highly efficient pellet mill during the Small Log Conference, held at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in March. With more people using wood pellets for heating, and actual legislation advancing on crediting such energy as “renewable” and “green,” Purcell faces a rosy future selling high-grade pellets. But as Fairchild knows well, it’s a fine science making pellets, especially premium grade ones. It all begins with getting the right wood species into the plant.

“There’s a lot of competition, and we haul up to 60 miles,” Fairchild says of the constant struggle to keep raw materials on hand. Currently the mill has 10 employees working 10-hour shifts, Monday through Thursday. Residuals come in from various local mills, with huge piles of sawdust and planer shavings piling up on the asphalt storage areas surrounding the mill. Purcell pays for its raw material by weight.

“We use a mix of white wood, fir, larch, and some hemlock,” Fairchild explains. “We like to keep it at 50 to 60 percent Douglas fir, because it makes a better product. We test for moisture and ash content. The higher the moisture, the less heat. But we are at the mercy of the mills and what they send as separate species. We haul it to our yard and mix it to our formula.” Mixing is made somewhat less messy because the mill yard is paved, reducing dust and foreign debris.

With literally mountains of sawdust piling up around the manufacturing plant, the raw material first undergoes a drying process before being sent through the pellet mill, which churns out 4.5 to five tons per hour.

Just Like Pasta Making

“It’s just like making spaghetti,” Fairchild grins, comparing the pellet mill to a giant pasta maker. “With a pellet mill, you have to have small particles,” he adds. Because of the residues on the wood, the pellets come out naturally glossy. Once manufactured, products are bagged for shipment using an efficient robotic arm.

With moisture content between two and three percent, Purcell’s product is considered super premium. As such, it is sought after in the Pacific Northwest region, but the company does ship as far as Boston. Given the record-breaking snowfall and cold temperatures around Boston this last winter, demand for pellets in general ran high, and nationally, pellet mills were challenged to keep up with demand.

The Bigger Picture

In the bigger picture, the United Kingdom still outpaces the United States in using pellets for heat, mostly because in Europe, carbon credits and renewable portfolios are part of the lifestyle. Here in the U.S., legislators are still on the fence about totally embracing woody biomass, often based on politics.

Maine Senator Angus King has reintroduced legislation bringing woody biomass energy into the nation’s energy portfolio, making such energy acceptable for tax credits. Will the bill pass? People in the East acknowledge the value of wood pellets after last winter, and know full well that such energy can go toe to toe with heating oil. Stepping away from fossil fuels to embrace renewable woody biomass, often keeping products and employment local, is exactly what Purcell Premium Pellets is already doing.