Mechanization, technology make wood removal profitable

By Ryan C. Christiansen
Extracting low-value woody biomass from forests and delivering it to consumers is a relatively expensive process. Handling costs are high because forest harvesting systems were originally designed for large-diameter timber, not logging slash-small-diameter trees, treetops, limbs and trees that can't be sold for sawtimber. The most profitable woody biomass removal operations are the most-mechanized and use new technologies designed specifically for biomass removal, according to the Santa Fe, N.M.-based Forest Guild in a recent report, titled "Synthesis of Knowledge from Woody Biomass Removal Case Studies." The report, funded by the U.S. Forest Service's Joint Fires Science Program, examined 45 biomass removal case studies.

A company in Lufkin, Texas, is putting this knowledge into practice. In November, Angelina Fuels LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Aspen Pipeline LP, began using a John Deere 1490D Slash Bundler to collect residual woody biomass left behind in the east Texas woods after timber harvesting. The slash is fed into the bundler and bound into compact logs, dubbed "slash logs."

Angelina Fuels is collecting the biomass for its sister company Aspen Power LLC, which has begun building a 50-megawatt biomass-fired power plant in Lufkin, according to Danny Vines, president of both companies. He said the power plant is scheduled to come on line in November 2009 and will consume 1,500 tons of woody biomass per day.

The John Deere bundler is only the third unit to be sold in the United States, according to Shane Toner, sales consultant for Doggett Machinery Services in Lufkin. According to Deere & Co., the bundler is widely used in Europe.

Vines said bundling makes it easier to transport slash from the woods and increases its shelf life. Ultimately, he said, Angelina Fuels will need to have six of the John Deere slash bundlers in operation.