The Many Dynamics of Feedstock Supply

When it comes to feedstock, there are many variables that can affect the outcome of a project or operation.
By Anna Simet | March 07, 2019

When it comes to feedstock, there are many variables that can affect the outcome of a project or operation. From price to proximity, to cleanliness, bark, moisture content, size and more, one misstep in the process can cause setbacks. On the other hand, an improvement from the norm can cause positive ripple effects not only for the producer, but the entire industry.

That might sound like a stretch, but in the world of wood drying, something innovative is brewing in the Northeast, and it has the potential to have a big impact on the biomass heating market.
Innovative to the U.S. market, that is, as it’s already common in Europe—I'll explain. Back in our Nov./Dec. issue, Senior Editor Ron Kotrba profiled Froling Energy, and detailed its precision dried chips (PDC) operation. In a nutshell, these prescreened chips are delivered to customers dried down to 25 percent moisture, so users don’t have to be concerned with consistency, quality or specs. While these PDCs, or semi-dry chips, do cost more than green chips, compatible systems cost less than green chip systems, and the return on investment is quick. Froling has done the math, and maintains that burning PDCs is equivalent to burning oil at about $1.28 per gallon.

Jump ahead to this issue of Biomass Magazine, and Kotrba followed up on the semi-dry chip market, particularly the notion that suppliers are few, and thus, problematic. This has perhaps slowed market growth, but Kotrba found that there are new companies stepping up, and some state incentives are greasing the tracks. Be sure to check out our feature “Critical Mass” on page 26.

Following the theme of feedstock logistics, I hope you enjoy the profile I wrote on Curran Renewable Energy, “From the Ground Up,” on page 18. For the story, I chatted with founder Pat Curran about how the business evolved from a few chainsaws and a truck into what it is today. What initially intrigued me about CRE was that it is the only wood pellet supplier that I know of that 100 percent self-supplies its fiber, which has some great benefits.

Deeper into this issue, staff writer Patrick Miller details discussions he had with some fuel suppliers about their operations and role in the biomass heating markets. While reading “Partnering to Produce a Better Wood Chip” on page 42, I was reminded that sometimes, equipment engineers/designers are unsung heroes. In the story, Catamount Forest Products shares how Vermeer assisted the company—which supplies about 50,000 tons of wood chips into the biomass heating market annually—by expertly engineering its equipment to ensure its logyard operations are as efficient and economical as possible, meeting all of Catamount’s needs. “Our job is made a lot easier because of Vermeer,” says Rodney Rood, Catamount co-owner. “They stepped in and made the equipment we needed to get the job done.” Rood adds that he believes that because of the system Vermeer designed and built for Catamount, they’re in a good position to capitalize on the increasing market demand.

Demonstrated by the size of this issue, feedstock logistics is a critical topic in the bioenergy industry, and not just limited to wood heat. If you’re reading this at the International Biomass Conference & Expo in Savannah, Georgia, there is a preconference seminar focusing specifically on feedstock preparation, handling and storage, so be sure to check it out, and say hello. If you have a story to tell, I would love to hear it.

Author: Anna Simet
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