The Beasts are Cleaning Up
By Jean Sorensen
The legacy of the mountain pine beetle (MPB) includes huge piles of unusable biomass left in the Interior BC woods, estimated by the BC government to be in the hundreds of millions of bone dry tons. “Beetle huts” of debris in the BC Interior can be as much as 60 feet high and wide, can be as long as 100 feet, and are
seen throughout the forest region. The growing biomass opportunity – coupled with BC’s net deficit of power, increased fire threats, and a desire to reduce greenhouse emission – is causing BC to look at alternative disposal means.
By Jean Sorensen
BC’s forest ministry is also looking at tenure changes to promote the use of residual biomass. While no new tenures are proposed, the forest analysis and inventory branch of the Ministry of Forests on its website states that “several forms of tenure are under review to determine their suitability for authorizing the removal of biomass specific to bioenergy.” And, in 2007, BC Hydro put out a proposal call for bioenergy projects using the waste-wood.
Nay-sayers have always cited the high cost of trucking and processing biomass as a deterrent, but a Vancouver Island operation is showing that with the right technology, contract diversity and equipment, processing biomass can be a viable option. It’s not for everyone, but it is a specialized service that blends well with existing support services offered by trucking companies like Berry Trucking Ltd. of Port Alberni.
Biomass in Action
Anna Berry began making hog-fuel in 2001, when her trucking company purchased its first Bandit Beast, the mid-sized 3680 grinding unit. She saw an opportunity in grinding dryland sort material for a local pulp mill.
“We had to diversify,” she says, as things became tougher in the forest industry and she needed to keep 16 people working for the company that was started by late husband James (known as Buck) in 1987. She has run the company for the past 20 years with the help of her two sons Brad and D’Arcy.
It seemed a natural fit for the trucking company, which was into hauling fly-ash from the local paper mill as well as roadbuilding, had tractors and trailers for hauling, and low-bedding equipment and other support services for the logging industry.
“We could hog material (at the dryland sort) and truck it to the paper mill,” she says. The roadbuilding equipment – excavator and loader – was already in place to support the Beast in the dry-land sort area.
Since that time, Berry Trucking has purchased three Beasts – two 3680s and the latest acquisition, the 4680 Beast obtained in November 2007, Bandit’s second-largest grinder. Earlier this year, Anna sold one 3680 Beast and some equipment to son Brad so he could set up as an independent. Berry Trucking (contracting for Hayes) now works Western Forest Products’ Sarita dry land sort (an hour’s drive from the pulp mill in Port Alberni), while Brad works a second sort area with Berry Trucking providing the hauling.
As the company ventured into grinding hog-fuel for the boilers in the paper mill, son D’Arcy acknowledges other opportunities for converting waste material into bioenergy for other clients. “We want to get into the waste business,” he says, adding that currently, he’s working with the City of Port Alberni to establish a site where local residents can bring green debris for a modest tipping fee. Using a Beast, they would process the material for fuel or energy conversion clients. The incentive to the city is that the material is kept from the landfill, while it would help deal with illegal dumping, a problem for the environment and tourist areas.
“What happens when people are loading the pickup (with the green matter) is that they usually throw in a few bags of garbage or an old appliance, and it all ends up in the bush,” he says, adding to pollution and clean-up problems for the city.
Those same triggers are gradually transferring to the forest industry today. There is the potential to use more residuals – aside from the material that is now processed in dryland sorts – such as leftover wood, stumps, old blow-down and roadside slash. Yet as D’Arcy points out, users must still pay a 25- to 50-cent stumpage cost for its removal, despite the fact that if it is left on site, someone has to pay to burn it as waste. Ideally, salvage operations should be able to remove debris with the exercise yielding a net benefit to all parties – the licensee has less clean-up debris to burn or dispose of, the Crown lands are easier to reforest or there is less debris to wash into streams, and the salvager is in a position to sell the material to a co-generation plant.
In April 2007, Bob Friesen from the BC Ministry of Forests and Range gave a presentation in Vancouver entitled Turning Challenge into Opportunity on bioenergy at the same time that BC Hydro was calling for proposals. Friesen identified sources of biomass as those outside the forest base, interface fire hazard areas, forest rehabilitation sites, unallocated volume from new tenure areas, roadside and landing site piles, and mill residues. By mid-April, BC Hydro reported it had received 80 responses to its bioenergy request for expression of interest. Submissions were received from throughout the province (although most were in BC’s Interior region) and a range of stakeholders (First Nations, municipalities, and forest companies). Forest Minister Rich Coleman said at that time “we now have the information needed to help forest companies and power producers move forward in the next phase of the bioenergy call process.”
For individuals like D’Arcy, who just returned from a trip to the Interior, there are a number of opportunities given the right triggers and change of attitude. Using the grinding machines to deal with debris is essentially another form of wood processing – which today’s industry doesn’t fully acknowledge. There’s also opportunity to use grinding equipment to reduce fire hazards or grind material into a mat that breaks down faster and helps retain moisture for reforestation. The Beast does come with a spreader that “flings” material after processing it, D’Arcy points out. “But, someone would have to pay for us to go in and do it,” he says, and, again the debate is over cost. Yet, when fires result, the cost to the public is in the millions of dollars.
Not Cheap Work
This new generation of grinding machines can do the job, but thanks to the nature of the work – dealing with wet, dirty pieces of wood of varying dimensions and consistencies – not to mention the occasional rock or piece of steel from broken equipment – there is considerable cost.
When the Berrys began looking at equipment, they chose the Bandit Beast because of its ability to handle the debris and its safety features. “The machine works approximately five or six hours a day, but requires two to three hours maintenance,” tells D’Arcy. “It’s a high maintenance machine,” he says, but one of the Beast’s safety features is that if a large rock or steel tine from equipment penetrates the interior and the grinding process can’t pulverize it, the machine has the ability to break apart, halting the process. It takes approximately three to four hours to restore the machine and “you may be down a day,” tells D’Arcy, but not out of business.
That scenario was witnessed by D’Arcy and Anna at another operation when a grinder from another manufacturer hit a piece of metal, which resulted in the machine’s frame breaking and causing $80,000 damage.
Berry Trucking found that having two 3680s on site worked well when handling production-oriented contracts such as feeding a pulp mill’s boiler. When one was down, the other could step in, or a back-up unit could supply a spare part while one came in on order. The Bandit Beasts are still a relative rarity in western Canada (four on Vancouver Island and one in Grande Prairie, AB), but interest is growing.
The Berry family obtained its 4680 in late fall of 2007 after selling off one of the smaller units to son Brad and the remaining unit blew an engine. D’Arcy turned to the Internet and began searching.
“My first choice was a tracked unit,” he says. The 4680 tracked unit has a 325 Caterpillar undercarriage and is self-propelled – ideal for walking in slash (see biomass recovery article on page 18). Like all bandit Beasts, it is available in Canada from BC to Ontario via Brandt Equipment. However, armed with a high Canadian dollar and searching on a used US equipment site led him to a near-new 4680 (albeit a rubber-tired unit) at a price he couldn’t refuse. D’Arcy doesn’t like to disclose what he paid for it, but it was a deal as the previous owner had lost a contract and wanted to sell. He arranged to have it loaded on a truck in Maryland, and shipped to his Vancouver Island community.
D’Arcy had the mechanics and crew “crawl all over” the unit for a few days to make sure they understood where all the grease gaskets were and how the unit operated compared to the smaller units which they were familiar with. Protective plates have also been welded inside the unit to prevent wall scouring as sand and rocks carried in the wet debris move through the interior).
As is common when buying sight unseen, the Berry family had a few surprises when the machine arrived. D’Arcy discovered that the larger unit’s knives during the cutting process (like a chipping process) swing in an arc, and there’s often a fall-down space for larger pieces of debris to lodge in the front. This has to be cleaned out regularly, but had not been done and debris was packed into the machine, impeding operation. In addition, crews found that one of the augers was inserted backwards, resulting in a poor cutting action. After spending days going over the machine, it was put into operation at the Sarita sort.
Both D’Arcy and Anna are pleased with its initial performance at the dryland sort. It is fed by a John Deere 892D-LC excavator’s long-reach boom using a clamshell shovel for grasping material. The shovel’s bucket has been guarded with steel wear plates to protect the head from the knocking it takes in shifting through debris. As Anna says: “They are expensive to replace.”
Production figures on the machine are still not finalized as it goes through a break-in period. “We really only have 22 hours on the machine since it arrived from Maryland,” tells D’Arcy. But, the Berry family does know it is faster than the smaller unit as the drum, which pulverizes the cut pieces, is double the size. The 3680 Bandit Beast Recyclers have between 385 and 700 hp (630 or 700 hp for tracked models), while the 4680 ranges from 760 to 1,000 hp.
Productivity figures also depend upon the material fed to it and how fast material is being fed into the machine. The debris can range from whole logs to bark in the dry land sort. While the Berrys know the machine is faster than the smaller unit, there is still debate over just how much. One noticeable difference that D’Arcy sees is that the material flowing from the larger unit seems to be finer ground than material from the smaller Beast – a function believed related to the larger drum and more crushing power derived from its 860-hp engine. The Beast 4680’s opening is 44 inches high and 60 inches wide, enabling it to handle logs and stumps (the 3680 has a 33×60 inch opening). The cuttermill can control the piece size, which is then crushed before being ejected into the hog-fuel pile. Screens capture material that is not suitable.
The Berrys are also finding that the fuel consumption of the larger Beast isn’t as great as originally anticipated. “The 3680 burned about 12-15 gallons an hour of diesel while the 4680 we think is going to be only slightly higher per hour,” says D’Arcy. Again, he cautions that it depends on what kind of material the machine is handling. “We are still on a learning curve with this larger machine,” he says.
Part of the learning curve has involved assessing the possibility of installing wheels under the deck of the larger rubber-tired Beast to make it easier to move on paved roads. The 4680 comes with a fifth wheel plate for towing, but front-end wheels would make it easier to move around the site and between areas.
As the BC government moves to revise the tenure system to help harvest more biomass, it only spells new opportunities. As D’Arcy drives past a large pile of roots, debris, and slash on the way to Sarita, he says – “We could go in there and clean that up.” It’s just another dimension of the diversity that Anna wanted to build into her company when she welcomed home the first Beast years ago.