Status of Harvesting & Transportation for Forest Biomass ...

Status of Harvesting & Transportation for Forest Biomass ...

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

from wood.

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.


Aguilar, F. and H.E. Garrett. 2009. Perspectives of woody biomass for energy: survey of state

foresters, state energy biomass contacts, and national Council of Forestry Association

Executives. J. For. 107(6): 297-306.

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.

Sample, V.A. 2009. Summary/synthesis: What Role Will Forests Play in America’s Long-Term

Energy Future? Pinchot Institute for Conservation. 26p.


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