A New Tool for Harvesting Forest Biomass

By Chantal Hunter
March 2012

A new tool for harvesting biomass, a renewable energy source, is proving to be good for the environment and the local economy.
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Biomass Harvesting of Short Rotation Woody Crop Plantation

Woody biomass, or biological material from shrubs and trees, could become a widely used energy source in the future. Its value lies in that it can be locally grown, is renewable and is considered a carbon-neutral energy source.

Until recently, the potential of biomass was limited by the inability to harvest it efficiently. But researchers with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), working with partners in the private and public sectors, have helped to develop a new tool for harvesting biomass: the BioBaler.

A Robust Product

The BioBaler was developed in collaboration between NRCan’s Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC), Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Laval University and commercialized by the Anderson Group.

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Biomass Processing at Alberta-Pacific Pulp Mill

Towed behind a standard 200-horsepower tractor, the BioBaler was developed to harvest brush and small trees and compact them tightly into round bales. The bales can then be loaded onto a conventional flatbed trailer for transport.

A major feature of the BioBaler is its ruggedness. Early on, researchers determined that it had to be more robust than the conventional hay balers on which it was based. Because of its sturdy design, landowners may also be able to use the BioBaler to harvest their biomass more frequently and under diverse weather conditions.

The BioBaler has thus become decisive in opening up the potential of woody biomass. “We believe the BioBaler successfully addresses the issue of how woody biomass can be harvested and transported for use as green fuel or as raw material for the production of bio-products,” says Tim Keddy, CFWC Wood Fibre Development Specialist.

Economic Benefits

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Biomass Harvesting of Regeneration Aspen Stand

In addition to helping develop the BioBaler, NRCan researchers are evaluating a number of possible options for supplying woody biomass, from short-rotation woody crops to regenerating aspen stands.

“Landowners often sell mature, 80- to 100-year-old, aspen trees for pulp,” says Derek Sidders, local CWFC Regional Coordinator. “However, as our study shows, they now have the option of harvesting the regenerating stems, which would produce another cash crop from the site every three to five years.”

The use of regenerating woody biomass as an energy resource is growing. Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries (Al-Pac), a large pulp producer in Western Canada, uses woody biomass to generate power for its mill and to feed the Alberta provincial electricity grid. Working with Al-Pac, researchers were able to identify the option of utilizing existing managed regenerating aspen stands to supply an additional 50,000 tonnes of woody biomass annually. This amount is in addition to the 500,000 tonnes of biomass that Al-Pac already consumes. 

The new forms of harvesting woody biomass made possible by the BioBaler are already underway. “This project is truly unique as it links the newly developed BioBaler with an industrial end-user and, for the first time ever, uses regenerating stands as a sustainable source of woody biomass,” adds Tim.

For more information, please visit NRCan’s Bioenergy Systems web site.

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