Conference panel discusses crucial feedstock factors

By Lisa Gibson | January 17, 2012

Key factors to fuel handling design and implementation include raw material supply, permits, financing, and power purchase agreements, according to Desmond Smith, vice president of Bruks Rockwood Inc. and speaker at the Pacific West Biomass Conference & Trade Show, held in San Francisco, Calif., Jan. 16-18. “This is the drum that everyone beats at these conferences,” he said.

Smith presented during a panel titled “Biomass Harvest, Handling and Forwarding Strategies to Accommodate Future Feedstock Demand.” He identified the main feedstock risk issues as source, timing, quality, size, moisture, contamination, storage characteristics, energy content, and sustainability to end use. He named pellets as a good product with meaningful revenue, referencing the booming pellet market in the Southeast U.S.

Fellow speaker Tad Mason, CEO of TSS Consultants, walked the audience through a study TSS conducted in September that evaluated feedstock hauling options for an 82-acre wooded site in California’s Tahoe National Park. Regional issues Mason said drove the study include extreme regional catastrophic wildfire risk, relatively low saw log values, and the fact that forest road systems are designed to accommodate log trucks.

The study used two different types of hauling machinery, a stinger steer and a short trailer, to move five loads of tree tops and limbs, Mason said. “The key is net onboard weight.” The study found the average weight on the stinger steer was nine tons, whereas the average weight on the short trailer was nearly 11 tons. But the cost per hour for the short trailer was cheaper, he cited.

TSS concluded that both systems performed well and Mason attributed that to experienced drivers. The study also found that the short trailer was more cost effective than the stinger steer, although the latter was more versatile. In addition, Mason said net revenue generated from biomass recovery helped overall project economics. In conclusion, TSS made a few recommendations from its findings: feedstock procurement should include trained drivers; the stinger steer should be engineered to be lighter; and the trailers should be equipped with onboard weigh scales.

“We’re going to switch from forest to the farm,” said speaker Harrison Pettit, vice president of business development for agricultural biomass supply chain developer PowerStock. A key to developing those supply chains, he said, is to make sure they can be replicated. Agricultural biomass, Pettit added, will be essential the bioenergy future of the U.S.

Final panel speaker Richard Hess, director of Energy Systems and Technologies for the U.S. DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, echoed Smith in discussing the importance of equipment design to feedstock efficiency. Hess suggested project developers work just as much on equipment for handling and feeding biomass into their conversion technologies, as they do on the material itself.