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BioBaler makes its western Canadian debut

Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. That really is a round baler being pulled behind a tractor through a juvenile hardwood stand and creating round bales.

Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) researchers recently demonstrated the “BioBaler,” a patented juvenile-hardwood baling system developed originally by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in collaboration with the CWFC and Laval University in Quebec City.

The system requires no additional special equipment and the BioBaler can be pulled by a standard 200-horsepower tractor to produce wood-fibre round bales, weighing between 250 and 400 kilograms, that are similar in appearance to straw ones.

The BioBaler, which is now being manufactured commercially by Quebec company Anderson Group Inc., is suited for stands containing fibre with stems no larger than 10 to 12 centimetres thick. The round bales can then be loaded onto a flatbed truck for transport, just like straw or hay bales, or stored on site to dry even when exposed to the elements.

“That’s what we think is key to using this technology,” says Tim Keddy, CWFC’s wood-fibre development specialist.

“Outside of the baler itself, there’s no new infrastructure needed for a farmer or forestry business to run this operation and it gives farmers use of their equipment at different times of the year when it would be sitting idle.”

Creating this sort of value-added biomass product is important to forestry companies, which increasingly rely on green fuel or creating raw material for production of bioproducts in their business model.

According to Anderson Group, each bale contains about one megawatt per hour of energy, depending on the type of vegetation. The BioBaler can produce up to 40 bales per hour on plantations and 15 to 18 bales per hour in natural environments. It can handle different species of shrubs and trees and be transported from one field to another without special regulations.

The bales can be stacked on a conventional 53-foot-long trailer, with about 40 bales per load, handled with standard equipment at the receiving site, and because of their dimensions, easily stored in the field or at a power plant site. They also dry naturally, which is important for energy production. It takes about eight weeks of warm weather post-harvest to decrease moisture content from 50 to 55 per cent to between 20 and 25 per cent.

The BioBaler is versatile, and able to produce bales from natural forests, under power lines, and in short-rotation wood crops.

Power for the grid

Alberta Pacific Forest Industries (Al-Pac), a large pulp producer in Athabasca, has asked CWFC to use the BioBaler as part of a study to identify possible options for acquiring an additional 50,000 green tonnes annually of biomass from existing regenerating managed aspen stands. The company already uses 500,000 green tonnes in its boiler, with about 75 per cent coming from wood residues collected from its woodyard. The biomass fuel is used to generate power for the pulp mill, as well as for the provincial grid. Upgrades made to the Al-Pac boiler will require an additional 50,000 green tonnes of biomass to be consumed annually.

CWFC is harvesting fibre from managed stands ranging from less than 15,000 stems per hectare, between 15,000 and 25,000 stems per hectare, and more than 25,000 stems per hectare to evaluate the most economical sites and harvesting methods. The sites were harvested last winter and the bales hauled to the pulp mill. Post-harvest assessment has been completed and researchers are now conducting long-term regeneration assessments on the harvested sites. CWFC will present its findings to Al-Pac this fall.

Keddy says the centre has been evaluating a variety of methods to economically harvest juvenile hardwood stands located near forestry operations for nearly a decade. Researchers have also been studying options for harvesting biomass from power line and pipeline easements where, at present, much of the vegetation is simply mulched on site.

Private landowners currently supplying Al-Pac with a portion of their wood supply could also substantially benefit. At present, they are growing aspen trees for pulp, which take about 80 years to grow. However, after that crop is harvested, they could choose to bale the regeneration and produce another cash crop from the site on a much more frequent harvesting cycle.

As part of its study for Al-Pac, researchers are evaluating the economics of different removal rates. A control site of no removal is being compared to sites with 50 per cent and 100 per cent removal rates, comparing regeneration, post-harvest growth, and total volume per site.

The estimated cost of the machine is between $140,000 and $150,000. For more information on CWFC research related to woody biomass harvesting of juvenile hardwoods from managed stands in the Boreal Plains region and the BioBaler, contact Tim Keddy at (780) 435-7212 or [email protected], or Derek Sidders at (780) 435-7355 or [email protected]

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