Status of Harvesting & Transportation for Forest Biomass –
Preliminary Results of a National Survey of Logging Contractors,
Procurement Foresters, Wood Dealers and Forest Managers
Andres Enrich, Graduate Research Assistant
Dale Greene, Professor
Shawn Baker, Research Professional
Center for Forest Business, Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources
University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-2152
As US and international policy moves toward the use of bioenergy, the forest sector is actively
adapting wood procurement systems and management regimes to accommodate an emerging
market. The harvesting and transportation of biomass material as a feedstock for the forest
products and energy industries is a potential growth area. The need for cost effective and
productive supply logistics is forcing the industry to develop technology and adjust traditional
utilization rates to increase recovery from the forest resource. An online national survey was
conducted to evaluate current wood procurement systems and harvesting technology to provide a
measure of the current biomass market. Participation in the survey included logging contractors,
procurement foresters, wood dealers and forest managers with representation throughout six
geographic regions, covering the contiguous 48 states.
Today, renewable energy provides about 7% of the total US energy use with roughly half coming
from biomass sources (75% of which comes from forests). Most forest biomass is burned to
produce heat and/or electricity for the forest products industry and the grid. Wood pellet markets
are driven primarily by coal-fired electric plants in the European Union. Most major US utilities
and several independent electricity producers have announced plans to build new energy
capacity, based on wood as a feedstock.
Recent introduced climate change legislation in the US has included ambitious federal renewable
electricity standards of 20% by 2020 or 25% by 2025. The renewable liquid fuel standard passed
in the 2007 energy bill set a target of 36 billion gallons of renewable liquid fuels by 2022 (28
billion gallons from cellulosic sources). The “Billion Ton Report” prepared by the Department
of Energy and Agriculture in 2005 suggests that 1 billion dry tons of biomass can be sustainably
produced in the US with 37% coming from forests (Perlack et al. 2005). Producing 370 million
dry tons from forests would imply a doubling of current US timber harvest levels (Sample 2009).
A globally competitive wood supply system is already in place in the United States, producing
traditional products such as pulpwood, sawtimber, and clean chips. As resource and
procurement managers grapple with policy and market forces, existing supply chain logistic
models are being evaluated to identify ways to recover additional value through biomass.
Capturing waste and residue from traditional roundwood harvesting and production processes is
the first step towards bioenergy targets. Markets are developing for wood pellets and electricity
The harvest of additional biomass requires modifications to forest management regimes, harvest
systems, and technology to obtain this material productively and economically with minimal
impacts to harvest sites. Cost effective harvesting and transportation are keys to delivering
quality biomass feedstock at a competitive market price (Aguilar and Garnett 2009). How is the
forest sector dealing with these challenges? This project assessed the current state of biomass
harvesting and transportation systems throughout the US including an evaluation of traditional
logging systems and independent logistic systems specifically tailored to biomass harvesting.
This project assessed the current state of biomass harvesting and transportation systems
throughout the US. We evaluated traditional logging and transportation systems and their
modifications to improve utilization and increase recovery for forest biomass. Independent
logistic systems specifically tailored to biomass harvesting were also evaluated to gauge supply
We targeted active participants in the wood supply system for participation in an online survey
that was available during April and May of 2010. The survey assessed the state of biomass
harvesting, collection, and transportation technology currently used across the US. Distribution
of the survey was not conducted as a random sample but rather by choosing respondents
purposefully. Member companies and logging associations of the Wood Supply Research
Institute were contacted and asked to forward an email describing the survey to members of their
organizations. Companies that purchase wood were asked to have their procurement managers
responsible for manufacturing facilities complete the survey. Land management firms were
asked to have their region managers complete the survey. Logging associations were asked to
forward the survey to all logging contractor and wood dealer members.
Upon accessing the survey, each respondent was asked to identify themselves as a land
management forester, procurement forester, logging contractor, or wood dealer (Figure 1).
Every survey participant was asked a set of common questions. In addition, role-specific
questions were asked to obtain information from the perspective of different players in the wood
supply chain. Questions sought information on product forms, haul distances, minimum
recoverable biomass amounts per acre and per tract, market requirements for product quality, and
other variables to understand the sensitivity of cost effective operations. Geographically, the
country was divided into six regional units based upon the regions used by the Forest Resources
Association (Figure 2). One reminder was sent out after about two weeks with a second
eminder sent about two weeks later. The survey was available for completion from April 6 to
May 18, 2010.
Figure 1. Flow chart illustration the progression of the online survey to identify factors
associated with forest biomass harvest, collection, and use.
Figure 2. US forest regions as defined by the Forest Resources Association.
We present preliminary results based upon data collected through May 12, 2010. Participation
for the survey was greatest for the South Central, Southeastern, and Lake States regions (Figure
3). Harvesting contractors were the largest respondent group in most regions, which was
desired and a reason for the method of survey delivery. All logging associations throughout the
country were contacted, whereas only WSRI member companies were contacted for
Figure 3. Participation in the biomass survey by region of the country and functional role in the
industry. Numbers in parentheses indicate total responses within the region.
Among wood dealers, harvesting contractors, and procurement foresters, 60% reported
producing or selling biomass whereas around 80% of forest managers indicated that they are
selling biomass. Preliminary results of the online survey indicate dirty wood chips are sold as the
favored primary feedstock followed by unscreened grindings and roundwood (Figure 4). The
prevalence of roundwood, and to a lesser extent clean chips, indicate that biomass markets are
already beginning to utilize “traditional” forest product feedstocks for supply. The reported
frequency of clean chips, screened grindings, and roundwood (35%) also indicates reluctance in
some markets to use “dirty” products such as whole-tree chips and unscreened grindings.
Bundles and bales were offered as a feedstock type, but were not selected by any participants.
By far the most popular (59%) method of harvesting biomass materials was during conventional
harvesting (Figure 5). The majority of biomass operations deployed wheeled feller-bunchers and
skidders with pull-through delimbers/loaders at landings. Given the large response from the
southern states where such systems are dominant, this is not surprising. Logging contractors’
choice of grinding or chipping equipment was roughly equal (30% each) for drum chippers, disk
chippers, and horizontal grinders with no bundlers/balers and few tub grinders represented in the
An average requirement of 20 tons per acre of biomass material was listed by harvesting
contractors and procurement foresters as the economic minimum to justify harvesting, but this
appears to vary depending on stand type, purpose of treatment, and scale of operation. Forest
managers surveyed reported an average of 13 tons per acre as the economic minimum. Minimum
tonnage on a single tract or sale was highest for logging contractors at 1255 tons and lowest for
forest managers presenting 680 tons. This variation likely results from a difference in objectives
as logging contractors attempt to minimize unit costs ($/ton) while forest managers are trying to
maximize value per acre.
Figure 4. Types of forest biomass feedstock delivered to markets across the US.
Figure 5. Timing of biomass harvesting/collection and its relation to other harvests.
Distance to market is an important economic factor for low-value products such as biomass. A
majority of respondents (56%) reported an average haul distance between 31-50 miles with
another 24% indicating hauls of 51-70 miles (Figure 6). Only 8% reported distances of greater
than 70 miles while 12% indicated their markets were less than 30 miles away on average.
Payload is another key transportation factor that can mitigate the impact of long haul distances
and must be maximized if delivered costs are to be competitive. Nearly half (47%) of our survey
respondents indicated that their payload was in the 26-28 ton range with another 34% suggesting
23-25 tons (Figure 7). These payloads compare favorably to those common with roundwood and
conventional chip products. This is not unexpected given the product forms reported earlier for
Another key transportation efficiency factor is the time it takes trucks to get unloaded at a
receiving facility. Our survey thus far finds turn-around times of less than 30 minutes or 31-45
minutes reported by 33% and 44% of respondents respectively (Figure 8). These times are
comparable to those commonly reported for traditional forest products as well.
Nearly half (49%) of those responding reported delivering biomass feedstocks to pulp mills
(Figure 9). No other market was reported by more than 15% of those taking the survey. This
clearly indicated that the most widespread market for biomass today is the pulp industry, with
other markets much less widespread. No respondents reported biomass sales to or purchases for
a liquid fuels facility.
Half of the people surveyed indicated that a biomass facility was under construction in their
region. Forty percent of respondents indicated that the biomass markets were growing in their
area (Figure 10). Nearly as many (38%) reported that such markets were “inconsistent”. There
was no clear message on the status of biomass markets. A slight majority (52%) reported them
as “growing” or “stable” while 48% listed them as “inconsistent”, “in decline”, or “non-
existent”. Biomass markets are poised to increase in the near future, but much of this growth to
date appears to be localized. Only one in four respondents feel that greater biomass harvesting
will increase future roundwood supplies in their area, compared to 42% who feel it will lead to a
decline (Figure 11).
Preliminary results of the online survey describe basic parameters for harvesting operations and
transportation logistics. Harvesting and transportation trends are outlined to understand the
current state the biomass markets. Pulp mills and forest product facilities have been identified as
the largest consumers of biomass feedstocks with fifty eight percent sold as dirty chips or
unscreened grindings. The most common form of biomass recovery occurs in conjunction with
conventional harvesting with the use of drum chippers, disc chippers or horizontal grinders.
Transportation parameters such as average haul distance of 31-50 miles and average payload of
26-28 tons are reported as market indicators for trucking. An analysis of trends by region will be
forthcoming after the collection phase of the project is concluded.
Figure 6. Average haul distance of forest biomass reported by survey respondents across the US.
Figure 7. Average payload for biomass transportation reported across the US.
Figure 8. Reported average turnaround times at the receiving mill for trucks transporting
biomass across the US.
Figure 9. Types of mills receiving forest biomass reported by survey respondents across the US.
Figure 10. Respondent opinions of the current status of biomass markets in their area.
Figure 11. Respondent opinions of the potential impact of biomass harvesting on future
roundwood supply in their area.
Funding for this project was provided by the Wood Supply Research Institute. We thank the
American Loggers Council for their assistance with this project.
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foresters, state energy biomass contacts, and national Council of Forestry Association
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Perlack, R.D., L.L. Wright, A.F. Turhollow, R.L. Graham, B.J. Stokes, and D.C. Erbach. 2005.
Biomass as feedstock for bioenergy and bioproducts industry: the technical feasibility of
a Billion-ton annual supply. US Dept. of Energy and Dept. of Agric. report. 64 p.
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Energy Future? Pinchot Institute for Conservation. 26p.