By Jim Stirling
Converting wood biomass to valuable forest products is becoming a welcome work generator for log harvesting companies in the British Columbia Interior.
Grinding or otherwise reducing biomass to useful forms offers a cash flow and a timely product diversification during tough times for regional loggers.
Biomass used to be called waste—but no more. The description is neither appropriate nor accurate.
The term biomass covers the woody material left after salvaging forests stricken by voracious insect attacks and devastating forest fires. Biomass is what’s left on the ground after conventional logging for commodity lumber products. The tops, trims and limbs are routinely piled high and left for disposal in fall prescribed burning. The waste of wood fibre this practice represents has long been criticized. But there are practical solutions to the issue.
Today’s loggers are proving it doesn’t take much impetus from government investment to get the biomass fibre utilization ball rolling and stimulate a chain reaction of private sector involvement. The process creates good paying jobs for an ageing workforce, circulates money back into B.C.’s cash-strapped forest dependent communities and helps reduce pollution and fire risk, while rejuvenating the forests. The importance of that little ‘nudge’ of public money is one of several lessons to emerge from a recent collaboration begun in the Williams Lake region of B.C.’s Cariboo country.
A few months ago, the Williams Lake Indian Band Ltd (WLIB), part of the Shuswap Nation, and Tsi Del Del Enterprises Ltd—a joint venture with Tolko Industries Ltd and part of the Ts’ilqot’in Nation—began a collaboration to jointly utilize the woody biomass left after logging areas impacted by the forest fires of 2017. In that year alone, forest fires burned about 1.2 million hectares of B.C. forest lands.
The Williams Lake Indian Band Ltd (WLIB), part of the Shuswap Nation, and Tsi Del Del Enterprises Ltd—a joint venture with Tolko Industries Ltd and part of the Ts’ilqot’in Nation—has started a collaboration to jointly utilize the woody biomass left after logging areas impacted by the forest fires of 2017. In that year alone, forest fires burned about 1.2 million hectares of B.C. forest lands.
The agreement between the WLIB and Tsi Del Del included sharing equipment and working cooperatively to serve the local markets for wood biomass. The two primary customers are Pinnacle Renewable Energy, a large industrial wood pellet manufacturing company with a plant in Williams Lake, and the Atlantic Power Corporation which operates a 66 MW biomass-fired power generating facility in the city.
“From October 2019 to December 2020, we shipped the equivalent of 105,000 cubic metres to Atlantic Power and 83,000 cubic metres to Pinnacle Renewable for an approximate value of $6.3 million,” reports Philippe Theriault, general manager of Tsi Del Enterprises. “All the wood was residuals from logging operations post-2017 wildfires, and it was all wood that would have been piled on site and burned.” Working with its clients and partners, Tsi Del has been instrumental in removing about 100,000 tonnes of CO2 while producing 25 to 30 jobs, he adds.
The other key participant in the cooperative venture between the WLIB and Tsi Del Del is the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. (FESBC). And bouquets all around from the WLIB and Tsi Del Del for the FESBC’s continuing support. The provincial government agency, in partnership with the federal government, distributes grants for qualifying projects throughout B.C. It supports forest projects that are designed to reduce greenhouse gases, add value to forest fibre and maintain jobs for forest workers and their communities among other laudable objectives.
FESBC is a partner in the Forest Carbon Initiative, which is funded in part through the Canadian government’s Low Carbon Energy Fund.
The ability to convert low grade and damaged wood fibre into commercial products and add value along the supply chain dovetails with the objectives of the Williams Lake collaboration. And the timing is excellent. There is no shortage of biomass material in the Cariboo; the challenges are making it economically viable to access and process.
The estimate is that for every dollar the governments invest through FESBC grants, it stimulates $10 of reciprocal value from the private sector, explains Theriault. “That’s a very interesting ratio to me. It shows what a little seed money can do,” he adds.
The two First Nations have assigned a range of equipment to tackling their biomass harvesting challenges. The process combines something old and something new, to borrow a formula from a different form of relationship. The something new part comes through the WLIB and its use of a new Link-Belt 3740 log loader. The machine was supplied through the Inland Group dealership in Williams Lake and it has been preforming very well in its biomass loading assignment, reports John Walker, stewardship forester with the WLIB. The Link-Belt 3740 has been primarily paired with a CBI 6800 CT horizontal grinder operated by Atlantic Power.
The WLIB’s log harvesting arm is Borland Creek Logging Ltd, which has grown from its formation in 1996 to become a full phase operation harvesting up to 150,000 cubic metres of wood annually. The WLIB also supplied a second log loader to the collaborative effort, this one a John Deere 2154 machine which was usually assigned to work with Tsi Del Del’s Peterson grinder. The grinder is affectionately known as Old Blue and has an interesting case history. Old Blue is a 2008 Peterson 4710 grinder which has undergone a few facelifts in its time.
“It’s been modified alright,” says Theriault “One of the first things we did was put on a high walker to allow it to get around better in the bush—there are side hills out there to deal with—and we’ve basically rebuilt it with a new engine and major components.” But, he adds, the 4710 is a small, nimble machine and that has helped it perform. Apart from the upgrades, the machine has a good basic frame which holds Old Blue in good stead in this application, says Theriault.
The back up support is readily available, too. Woodland Equipment Inc, with branches in Prince George and Kamloops, is the Peterson product line dealer. Many basic parts are also available through Great West Equipment’s Volvo, Morbark, Sennebogen dealership in Williams Lake.
The grinder-chipper manufacturing field is dynamic these days. Tigercat is introducing a new entrant with its sophisticated 6050 carbonator machine. It’s designed to reduce wood debris volumes on site into an easily handled biochar like product. The machine piques Theriault’s interest. Tsi Del Del has years of experience operating Tigercat equipment, including the company’s 870C series of feller bunchers which he says have a proven durability record.
While keeping a close eye on new possibilities, Tsi Del Del has proven how to get the most from its more mature machines. Old Blue is just part of the company’s colour spectrum of veteran performers. There’s also Mellow Yellow, an all fixed up and rejuvenated John Deere 792 log loader, circa 1996, still paying its working way daily in the best Tsi Del Del tradition.
On the Cover:
The Spruce Products sawmill in Swan River, Manitoba is proving that it pays to invest in targeted efficiency and optimization. Most recently, the sawmill has increased its log throughput at the front end of its main breakdown line by 20 per cent with a $3 million investment. They can now process about 4,000 logs per 10-hour shift, as compared to about 3,300 logs per shift previously, with a new log sorting system supplied by mill equipment manufacturer, Carbotech. Read all about the improvements beginning on page 8. (Cover photo courtesy of Spruce Products)
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