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Anticipating the Future
By Barbara Coyner
The logger did a nice job on the 40 acres near our home, taking out mostly cedar and thinning the stands. The slash piles remain, waiting to be torched sometime in the future. But in the future, such slash piles may be almost non-existent.
Over the last twenty years, steady strides have been made in dealing with slash. Several logging contractors have added a mastication head or chipping equipment to their stable of machines. Some are merely chipping and dispersing materials back onto the forest floor, while others have taken the productive step of chipping and hauling out the residue for use as woody biomass. As biomass energy gains status as an accepted green energy, and new techniques are adapted, one thing will remain a reality for enterprising logging contractors: there will be a constant need for woody biomass supply.
So what are some of the practicalities of harvesting woody biomass? An Oregon logger, Mark Standley, explores some of the considerations in an article in Western Forester’s January/February 2011 issue. It’s worth reading. While there’s plenty of back-and-forth discussion nationally on the merits of woody biomass as green energy, and lots of talk about possible new facilities coming online, Standley gives a nuts and bolts talk about some of the actual steps needed to get the product out.
Working as the operations manager for Bighorn Logging, Standley was a skeptic at first about harvesting biomass. But fast-forward to his new role as operations manager at Biomass Harvesting LLC, and Standley is clearly a believer. Following are just some of his tips about efficiently harvesting woody biomass.
Figure Out the Truck Situation
Clearly transportation has always been a biggie in getting biomass out of the woods, and in the past, TimberWest has covered specially developed trailers and roll-off bins as some of the solutions being researched. At the end of the day, the 48-foot-long chip van generally gets the nod as the mode of transport. Standley’s outfit bought four 48-foot Western and two 48-foot Peerless chip trailers with liftable rear axles, plus six Kenworth tractors for hauling.
He mentions that just finding a chip truck driver to safely maneuver logging roads counts as a big part of success. That driver not only has to know how to negotiate the rugged roadways, he also has to be savvy about loading on steep slopes and being legal once out on the highway. Many chip truck drivers have only hauled on highways, plus chip vans aren’t flexible in the middle like logging trucks, so getting the right driver is critical.
Another major concern is timing the trucks to synchronize with the grinder, so the grinder doesn’t experience costly down time. This aspect can be tricky when trucks get tied up at the mill or break down. Because woody biomass isn’t always highly profitable, every bit of harvest time has to be productive, from getting trucks in line at the grinder, to not taking the grinder off-line for any length of time.
Because harvesting woody biomass still hasn’t been fine-tuned, it can be a constant struggle of trial and error. Timing is everything, with trucks being loaded, while loads of limbs and other residue are also being brought to the grinder.
Standley provides numbers in his article, noting that it takes 15 to 20 minutes to load a trailer, adding up to 15 to 20 loads per day, with each trailer load amounting to about 27 green tons. Because sometimes supply outstrips demand, Standley reports that the company really has to consider its harvesting carefully and estimate loads ahead of time.
In various biomass jobs throughout the Northwest, slash is consolidated using an excavator, usually outfitted with a clamshell. As slash is relocated to bigger piles, it means the grinder can operate for longer periods in one area, plus the areas that have been cleared of slash can be replanted earlier. Standley considers this standard operating procedure on his company’s contracts, making jobs much more efficient.
Anticipating Biomass Harvest
Woody biomass is gaining in importance as a part of logging services, so it pays to have landowners plan in advance, Standley says in his article. That means creating a road system with wider roads and adequate turnarounds. He also advises that crews think about piling slash 40 to 60 feet off the road if at all possible so chip vans can load more easily. The bigger consolidated piles also allow for faster replanting and long-term storage of material if the markets are down.
It’s always helpful to get the insights of a biomass harvester like Mark Standley, because knowing a few steps can save much trial and error for those wanting to get into woody biomass production.
For loggers these days, air quality requirements may very well render the familiar slash pile fires obsolete. There are certainly more energy generating facilities springing up, each hungry for a steady supply. Indeed, some areas might even see competition for supply, divvying up biomass for pulp as well as energy. Because environmental entities constantly fret about over-harvest and lack of nutrients left in the woods, logging contractors know the considerations well: do a good job, don’t over-harvest, and pay attention to the bottom line.
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