the edge

biomassBiomass—getting what you pay for?

It’s a known fact that forest biomass that is used for supplying the energy sector must meet quality standards that apply specifically to energy-producing facilities. These standards involve moisture content (MC), particle size, fines content and degree of contamination. Customers each have their own requirements, which sometimes vary, and suppliers have to respect them. Developing a payment system based on quality and calorific value criteria seems to be the obvious thing to do, but that may be easier said than done.

Standardizing quality

There are international quality standards to help harmonize procurement and negotiation practices between the traditional forest industry and the emerging bioenergy industry. Standards that come under ISO/TC 238—Solid biofuels, for instance, cover a range of items, including terminology, sample preparation, fuel specifications, and classes. However, the methods described can be expensive and the classification used difficult to implement. That is why FPInnovations is currently working on developing a simple and easy-to-use classification system that will make it possible to quickly assess biomass quality. The system is based on both visual and touch indicators, and five quality criteria are used to define the class: moisture content, particle size, contaminants, presence of white wood, and density of wood species.

Speaking the same language

At the time of the transaction, suppliers and users often speak a different language. The supplier arrives with volumes expressed in cubic metres or green metric tonnes, whereas the user wants to pay for calorific value in megawatt-hours (MWh) or gigajoules (GJ). Variety in the supply (roundwood, wood chips, sawdust, bark, planer shavings, crowns and branches, construction-renovation waste) further complicates the situation.

The FPJoule web platform tool ( created by FPInnovations allows users to convert units of measurement so both parties can speak the same language and understand each other. Furthermore, the tool calculates the heating value of the biomass by taking into account its origin (species group, tree section) and moisture content.

biomassDeveloping an innovative payment system

FPJoule can therefore serve to develop an innovative payment system based on the heating value of the biomass. This value and the quality class are much more appropriate parameters for determining the price of the biomass than an amount per green metric tonne. Such a system could prove to be an incentive for delivering high-quality material.

For more information on this topic, or if you would be interested in testing this classification system, please contact Sylvain Volpé, Senior Scientist in FPInnovations’ Fibre Supply group at [email protected].

reduce fuel consumptionSeven ways to reduce fuel consumption in forest operations

Since fuel costs are a major factor when using off-road equipment, it’s in the best interest of any machine owner to reduce these necessary costs as much as possible.

Some work habits and operational factors have an impact on fuel consumption. Recent tests carried out by FPInnovations researchers allowed them to explore certain ways of improving energy intensity and also to measure fuel economy.

Conduct hydraulic systems tune-ups

A feller buncher’s numerous hydraulic systems make it a complex piece of equipment. Performing maintenance, seemingly optional, on the machine when it is always in operation is hard to plan. Yet, hydraulic tune-ups have helped increase productivity and reduce energy intensity from 0.54 l/m3 to 0.43 l/m3. This translates into a 20 per cent improvement. The return on investment when it comes to maintenance was estimated at fewer than 200 hours.

Use fuel-saving mode

Excavators and machines built on similar frames often have a throttle featuring a fuel-saving mode. Tests have shown that this mode, when used in the proper conditions, can reduce fuel consumption by 20 per cent and negligibly affect productivity.

Sharpen feller buncher saw teeth

Sharpening a feller buncher’s saw teeth can reduce fuel consumption and boost productivity by increasing energy intensity by 13 per cent. It is recommended to inspect saw teeth on a daily basis to see if they are still well sharpened and safe.

Avoid using a poorly maintained chain

It’s better to change the chain on the harvester head as soon as it shows signs of losing its sharpness. A dull chain reduces productivity and increases operating costs. It has been shown that using a new and sharp chain can reduce energy intensity by 15 per cent.

Maintain constant engine speed

Changing engine speed can have a negative impact on fuel consumption. In the case of a feller buncher, lowering engine speed by 100 RPM reduced productivity and increased fuel consumption and energy intensity by 6.5 per cent. This practice is therefore not recommended on this type of machine. However, other machines may react differently.

Haul tree trunks in a high position

The position of a skidder’s grapple can have a significant effect on the resistance force of tree trunks on the ground and therefore on fuel consumption. Hauling the trunks in a high position reduces their resistance, which results in lower fuel consumption. A 25 per cent difference in consumption was noted between the high and low position on a favourable slope. Tests conducted with a 5 per cent slope showed that the grapple’s position had less impact on consumption (difference of 3 per cent between high and low position).

Skid logs on optimal slopes

Skidding on an unfavourable slope can increase not only fuel consumption, but also the unit operating cost. Forest management planners and operations supervisors are therefore encouraged to review their operational plans before they start building roads or positioning skidding trails in order to potentially 
gain efficiency.

If you have any questions, it is always possible to test other practices to measure their impact. For more information, please contact Vincent Roy, transportation and energy researcher, at [email protected].

Small sawmillingAlberta’s Will Vohs discovered that he could make more money adding value to his standing timber and selling wood products than what forest companies wanted to pay him for raw logs.

Tips offered on how to succeed with small sawmilling venture


An Alberta farmer has discovered that it makes a lot more financial sense to transform his easily accessible and good quality trees into wood products than accept what forest companies are prepared to pay him for his standing timber.

Will Vohs owns two-and-a-half sections of land called the Valley of Hope Farm a half-hour west of Innisfail, Alberta, which includes a woodlot on a half-section. He says that he can manufacture a 12” X 12” X 20’ timber on his band sawmill and sell it for about $250. That’s compared to the $50 to $100 per raw log that forest companies want to pay him.

Timbers are the easiest wood product to manufacture on his all-hydraulic, 28 horsepower, gasoline-fuelled Wood-Mizer LT40 band sawmill equipped with a debarker, which he purchased for $30,000 about 12 years ago.

“Small sawmilling and wood value adding are good opportunities to diversify farm income and provide local employment while reducing risk for forest fire,” says Toso Bozic, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Bioenergy/Agroforestry Specialist.  

Although Vohs didn’t launch his sawmilling venture to make a lot of money and doesn’t advertise, using a lot of the wood he manufactures on his own farm, he says customers from all over the province still seem to find him through word of mouth. Typically, Vohs operates his sawmill two to three days a week in springtime.

Dorian Lavallee, Wood-Mizer National Sales Manager in Canada, says that part-time sawmilling is a great way to get started as a business. Wood-Mizer is the number one brand in the portable sawmilling industry throughout the world with more than 70,000 sawmills sold in 120 countries. They have had a presence in Canada since 1989.

“You have the security of your full time job, which allows you to build a client base to ensure a steady income from your custom milling business,” he says. “For a small scale sawing business, we would recommend the LT35HDG25 portable sawmill starting at $30,000. For a full time sawing business, we recommend an LT40HDG26 starting at $40,000.”

In 2005, Vohs wound down his 130 head, pure Charolais cattle herd and decided to sell some standing timber from his woodlot to a forest company to raise some money. That’s when it occurred to him that he could probably make more money producing his own wood products.

Vohs carefully harvests about 50 spruce and aspen trees annually measuring at least 16” at the butt and up to 30”. Typically, he falls the trees and transports them to his band sawmill, which is set up in an enclosure that also serves as shelter to protect his sawn lumber.

“Being here forty years, I realized that stuff falls apart,” says Vohs. “So you need to buy lumber to fix it or you can cut your own lumber to fix it. Being that I already had a tractor to pull logs out of the bush, I already had a Bobcat to put logs on my sawmill, and a chainsaw—all I was missing was the sawmill.”

Vohs has no regrets about his sawmilling venture, and while it isn’t a big money maker, he says he has built up equity in the business because the sawmill itself still has good value, if some day he decides to sell it. The key to anyone interested in making a sawmill investment is to try it first, because there is a lot of physical labor involved.

In addition to being prepared for the physical work, Vohs concludes that access to inexpensive, good quality standing timber, a dry place to store wood products, and the ability to produce custom wood products at a fair price are all important factors to consider before taking the plunge. Dorian Lavallee agrees, saying that the key business issues for prospective, small-scale sawmillers to consider are log supply, or the ability to get logs affordably, and customers to buy the end product, whether that is cants, lumber, furniture or other wood products.

For more information on how to fully assess your potential to establish a sawmilling business, contact Toso Bozic at [email protected].

SmartOperator ForestrySmartOperator Forestry: Helping forest operators reduce greenhouse gas emissions

In remote communities of British Columbia, FPInnovations has been hard at work with forest operators, rigorously testing harvesting machines and heavy construction equipment while they perform everyday work tasks in the field. The goal: to determine ideal technologies, business practices, and off-road machine operating practices in an effort to reduce fuel consumption and ultimately diminish greenhouse gas emissions by five to 10 per cent.

Starting out as part of a larger provincial initiative, FPInnovations has partnered with the forest industry and the B.C. government to develop SmartOperator Forestry—an educational offering where operators learn how to improve machine operation and selection. To get there, FPInnovations is first developing the science that supports the classroom lessons.

To date, the field trials have shown that excavators in economy mode versus power mode can save up to 20 per cent in fuel consumption. Skidding logs downhill reduces the energy intensity of a log skidder by 47 per cent compared with uphill travel, while feller bunchers with sharp teeth decrease energy intensity by 13 per cent in contrast to those with dull teeth. These are only a few examples of how FPInnovations is quantifying the energy intensity of commonly used harvesting and road construction machines, and developing an accurate carbon footprint model for Canadian harvesting operations.

Cameron Rittich, Transport and Energy Researcher, explained that “identifying these values will also help companies understand that small operational modifications and staying on top of maintenance reduce their long-term costs, while also actively contributing to B.C.’s climate leadership goals.” It’s a win-win scenario, with a full complement of benefits:

  • improved operational efficiencies
  • increased equipment uptime
  • decreased fuel consumption
  • reduced greenhouse gas emissions
  • enhanced air quality
  • improved performance of existing machines
  • increased knowledge when selecting new machines.

The team hopes to offer the SmartOperator Forestry approach—a framework consisting of a fleet benchmark study, operator education, and follow up—by the start of 2018.

Today, the focus is on B.C.’s forest sector, but FPInnovations envisions that the program will be extended across Canada to other sectors that use off-road machines such as mining, oil and gas exploration, heavy construction, and agriculture.

For more information, please contact Cameron Rittich, senior scientist of FPInnovations’ Transport and Energy group, [email protected]

woody biomassA three year stand of concentrated woody biomass featuring hybrid poplar is ready for harvest (above).

Concentrated woody biomass enhances district heating, carbon trading and bioenergy opportunities


Many Canadian forest companies have already diversified into biomass power production to lower their internal heat and energy costs while making better use of their wood residuals. Some have taken it further, and improved their balance sheets by becoming green power and district heating providers.

Also, as some parts of Canada and the world pivot away from the use of fossil fuels in power production, some companies are now major wood pellet producers.

But the availability of affordable wood residuals can restrain how much power, heat and wood pellets a company can generate.

The Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) says that short rotation concentrated woody biomass afforestation is an opportunity for forest companies to enhance their access to raw materials, thus providing an opportunity to participate more fully in the growth of the bioeconomy.

Derek Sidders, Program Manager at CWFC, says that the sale of carbon credits can help to mitigate the cost of establishing and managing these crops as they are excellent carbon sinks. CWFC has calculated that these plantations sequester between 14 and 28 carbon dioxide equivalent tonnes per hectare on an annual basis.

“The concentrated biomass design is specifically intended to produce woody biomass fuel for energy in the form of solids, liquids or gases,” says Sidders, with plantations economically located up to 100 kilometres away from where the biomass will be consumed.

CWFC has developed a variety of proven afforestation patterns that provide forest companies with strategies to mitigate the potential for fibre supply disruption because of climate change while creating new potential business opportunities. It has developed and recommends three proven afforestation systems. These are large stem, high yield afforestation; large stem, mixed afforestation; and, small stem, concentrated woody biomass afforestation.

In this third of a three-part series about afforestation opportunities, CWFC focuses on short rotation, concentrated biomass, how to establish these plantations, anticipated growth trajectories, and opportunities for its commercial use.

Concentrated woody biomass afforestation involves high density planting of very fast growing shrub willow and hybrid poplar in a hedge-like pattern of about 14,000 to 16,000 stems per hectare. Through coppice management, these crops regenerate and are harvested every three years. The goal is to protect and maximize production from the root system so that as many as six crops can be harvested every three years from the same planting.

The concentrated biomass afforestation pattern requires shorter and smaller land bases compared to other afforestation patterns because production is increased on the land base, with considerably more stems planted per hectare. Crops also reach maturity every three years, compared to 12 to 20 years with the large stem, high yield afforestation pattern.

CWFC is able to recommend suitable willow and hybrid poplar species to maximize vigor and production for each climatic zone in Canada, based on its research, demonstration sites, and development of a site suitability classification system.

Sidders says that the establishment costs for a concentrated woody biomass plantation are higher than the other two patterns recommended by CWFC because as many as 16,000 stems are planted per hectare in one, two or three row beds. The beds are spaced 1.8 to 2 metres apart. The cost to establish and manage this plantation is estimated at $8000 to $8500 per hectare. Harvesting costs are estimated at between $20 to $25 per green tonne every three years.

Vegetation management is the same as with other afforestation patterns, involving mechanical vegetation control. Passive cultivation takes place for vegetation management within three to five weeks, straddling the plantings with disks or cultivating shoes. Multiple entries are made throughout the initial growing season to help the trees establish their root systems. With the concentrated woody biomass pattern, intensive vegetation control is only needed to establish the crop, as the site grows back quickly enough so that only one treatment is needed after each harvest.

Proven harvesting technologies have been developed specifically for concentrated woody biomass, resulting in either a chip or round bale end product. CWFC has supported the development of baling technology and continues to work with developers to improve bale density so that more material can be transported per truckload. With more material transported per truckload, there is the potential to economically gather concentrated woody biomass from a greater distance.

Finally, by staggering the planting schedule and developing a crop rotation strategy, Sidders says that companies can develop scenarios where there is a continuous flow of concentrated woody biomass to supply their end use needs.

For more information about establishing a short rotation concentrated woody biomass plantation, contact Derek Sidders at [email protected].

pulp and paper fly ashPulp and paper fly ash shows strong potential as hydrogen sulfide scrubber


Alberta’s kraft pulp producers currently produce about 60,000 tonnes of fly ash annually, a considerable portion of which is landfilled at rapidly increasing costs.

But research supported by Alberta Innovates (AI) shows that fly ash is effective for oxidizing deadly hydrogen sulfide from sour gas wells. These laboratory findings by Dr. Paolo Mussone, a chemical engineer who leads the Applied Bio/Nanotechnology Industrial Research Chair at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), could benefit both Alberta’s forest and petroleum industries significantly.

Many of Alberta’s natural gas wells produce “sour gas” that includes hydrogen sulfide, which must be removed before the gas can be sold commercially. Mussone is developing a technology that, when fully scaled, will help pulp mills reduce their landfilling costs while monetizing what is currently a byproduct.

His three-phase research project is supported by the Alberta Bio Future program led and managed by AI, and all the pulp mills belonging to the Alberta Forest Product Innovation Consortium.

The first phase characterized the properties of fly ash produced by Alberta mills from burning hog fuel, while the second has focused on evaluating use of fly ash as a catalyst to oxidize hydrogen sulfide and convert it into sulfur and water.

“Right now (in the second phase), the project is focused on conducting laboratory scale work with fly ash samples that we receive from the mills, and determining which ones may be most suitable for this type of application,” says Mussone.

SmartOperator ForestryPulp mill fly ash as observed using a scanning electron microscope with a typical resolution of approximately 100 microns (inset photo), which is the thickness of human hair.

It is possible to increase the concentration of oxides in the fly ash but “the manipulation of fly ash into an engineered product is not a trivial matter, because its mineral composition is typically relatively complex,” says Mussone.

The third phase, in collaboration with Alberta Innovates, will gather all project data and by working with industry partners, determine the most economical path forward for extracting the fly ash and processing it to the point where it can be marketed as a catalyst for the gas processing industry.

Alberta Innovates has provided a grant of $128,060 to support this research.

Steve Price, AI’s executive director for bioindustrial innovation, says Alberta Innovates is working with industry and academics through the Alberta Bio Future program to explore new opportunities for product diversification and for emissions reduction. “This project with Dr. Mussone exemplifies what can happen when research partnerships are formed,” Price said.

One option for pulp producers would be to take their savings from diverting fly ash from the landfill and build post-processing units at the mills to produce a high-value, commercial product for use by natural gas producers to scrub hydrogen sulfide.

Another approach is to increase the porosity of the fly ash, allowing the molecules needed to react with the hydrogen sulfide to travel deeper into solid substrates to achieve better overall reactive performance.

Mussone notes the most desirable option for pulp producers would be to market the fly ash with the least amount of processing because this would require the lowest level of investment.

“We will have a clearer picture of where the optimum lies in terms of trade off between catalytic efficiency and degree of raw fly ash manipulation. The collaboration with our industry partners and their technological insight will be critical towards identifying the best option,” Mussone says.

Mussone suggests there could be other promising uses for fly ash, such as soil amendments and stabilizers, and concrete additives.

For more information about this project, contact Dr. Paolo Mussone at [email protected] or Alberta Innovates Communications Specialist Julia Necheff at [email protected].

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
October 2017

On the Cover:
Producing wood chips for manufacturing pulp is an important part of the forest industry in Canada, but producing forestry biomass for energy facilities is also of growing importance. Industry research organization FPInnovations has some solid tips on achieving the standards expected of biomass in a story on page 45 of this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal (Photo of B.C. Interior chipping operation by Paul MacDonald)

Keeping lumber on track
The rail system is an essential link in the supply chain for Canadian lumber producers, and industry associations are stressing that the system needs to be maintained and reviewed to get the best service—especially as the industry seeks to develop overseas markets, and get lumber to ports.

Maxing out value from logs
B.C.’s Skeena Sawmills has launched a broad-based effort to improve log utilization, and that effort includes the installation of a new small log canter line—and it’s also looking at a new log scanner, to maximize the value from each log.

New planer mill technology delivers
A new planer mill at IdaPine in Idaho is helping Evergreen Forest Products meet growing market needs—and standards for the company’s appearance grade products have been greatly enhanced by innovative Finnish scanning technology created by FinScan.

The right stuff—all the way ‘round
Nova Scotia logger Peter Archibald understands full well that he needs the right gear to deliver the right wood to the right mill, and he now has some new equipment—and some newly-trained operators—to deliver that wood.

Rolling uphill with logging changes
The B.C.-based Clusko Group is used to adapting to new environments and making changes, and the latest is a move to higher ground and steep slope equipment, with the Remote Operated Bulldozer (ROB) winch assist system.

Resourceful sawmilling
Vancouver Island sawmiller Lawrence Wheatley has weathered two decades of the ups and downs of the sometimes unpredictable wood products market by being extremely resourceful, and having a strong focus on local customers.

The Edge
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates, Alberta Agriculture and FPInnovations.

The Last Word
The forest industry must lead on developing a national carbon credit trading system, says Tony Kryzanowski.


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