Feedstock logistics is a major component of the biofuels supply chain and includes the harvest, collection, processing, transport and storage of woody biomass for use PRODas raw material. Though it has many advantages, including minimal inputs during feedstock production and a favorable carbon balance, the use of beetle-kill wood and associated treatment residues as raw material in the production of biochar and biofuel presents special logistical challenges.
Figure 1 – The bioproducts and biofuel supply chain. Adapted from the US Biomass Research and Development Initiative, National Biofuels Action Plan.
Compared to some agricultural biomass feedstocks and the woody byproducts of solid wood products manufacturing, forest biomass is bulky, heterogeneous, and prone to degradation if stored for long periods of time. This makes logistics difficult and costly. Furthermore, many new bioenergy conversion technologies require feedstocks that are cleaner, drier and smaller in particle size than traditional wood fuel and pulp applications, which can further increase the costs of production.
Figure 2 – Hog fuel, one form of processed forest biomass, is already widely used as fuel for the large scale cogeneration of heat and electricity.
In addition, compared to traditional forest management for timber, which relies heavily on large scale, even-aged reproduction methods like clear cuts, many of the partial cuts used by foresters to manage insects, disease and fire risk on public lands have not been adequately studied from a logistics perspective, especially with regards to biomass recovery and forest operations productivity and costs.
The BANR team will pursue logistics research to improve the financial viability of using beetle killed trees in the interior West for a wide range of commodity and energy options, including fiber and solid wood products, biofuels, and advanced bioproducts. Achieving this goal will allow forest managers to treat more acres at lower cost, especially in areas where the combination of fire risk and beetle kill is likely to result in costly damage to property, human life, watersheds, and a range of market and non-market forest values. This work will also facilitate the efficient flow of biomass from forests to new bio-based industries and will encourage industry expansion and associated economic benefits in the region, especially in rural communities.
We are using a three phase approach to accomplish these goals. Phase 1 will identify existing challenges and choose study sites of representative treatments within the study region; Phase 2 will carry out field operations research to benchmark performance of existing equipment used for beetle kill tree harvest, processing and delivery; and Phase 3 will develop optimized supply logistics for the range of site conditions, operational configurations and treatments for specific end uses and facility locations.
Figure 3 – A graduate student collects time study data during a forest biomass production study.
Feedstock processing for pyrolysis conversion
The logistics team will also work closely with Cool Planet Energy Systems to produce and evaluate a wide range of forestry feedstocks for use with the Cool Planet system. This work will identify the costs and benefits of using different biomass feedstocks of varying quality and characteristics such as moisture content, soil contamination, species, bark content, particle size and stage of mortality when harvested.
Figure 4 – Six different kinds of biomass feedstock produced from the same forest restoration treatment in Montana.