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Next-generation woody biomass collection and harvesting technology
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Open Challenge:

Next-generation woody biomass collection and harvesting technology
Woody Biomass
Deadline for concept summaries: October 4, 2019

Sponsored by

pg&e logo

Problem

PG&E alone trims and removes more than 1 million trees near its wires across its territory each year to mitigate wildfire risk, and as many as 15 million acres of California forests need some form of restoration.  Finding novel ways to reduce the cost and/or increase the safety of woody biomass collection could benefit utilities, landowners, and communities and citizens across California.

Desired properties

  • Supports a cost of collection cost of under $15 per Bone Dry Ton
  • Enables moisture reduction on location or reduces the amount of pretreatment drying needed if sent to a gasifier

Specifications

Category 1: Next-generation woody biomass collection and harvesting technology

Problem statement

California has a need to manage its forests effectively and cost-effectively for public health, safety, and environmental benefit. According to CalFire’s 2019 Community Wildfire Prevention & Mitigation Report, “California faces a massive backlog of forest management work. Millions of acres are in need of treatment, and this work— once completed—must be repeated over the years… It is estimated that as many as 15 million acres of California forests need some form of restoration.” 

PG&E alone trims and removes more than 1 million trees near its wires across its territory each year to mitigate wildfire risk, and, owns and manages several thousand acres of land.  Woody Biomass — defined as the trees and woody plants, including limbs, tops, needles, leaves, and other woody parts — resulting from forest and/or vegetation management activities in rural, suburban, or urban environments across California, is today an underutilized resource for reuse in other products, especially in the case of biomass considered “non-merchantable” (e.g. small diameter, branches, clippings, burnt, and diseased). Finding novel ways to reduce the cost and/or increase the safety of woody biomass collection could benefit utilities, landowners, and communities and citizens across California, with potential to lower energy costs, increase worker and public safety, improve forest health, and help the local economy through production of green products with renewable feedstocks.

Possible approaches

Any technical solution or business model innovation that provides a better performance and/or reduction in the cost to collect or harvest small diameter and underutilized (SDU) woody biomass as well as large diameter trees in urban areas as well as rural-forested areas will be considered. Also receiving consideration are technologies which could decrease worker safety risk, improve affordability to manage less accessible biomass (such as off-road or hilly terrain), or improve ability to collect dead, damaged, and diseased biomass. Example of existing and potential technical solutions include but are not limited to on-site grinder technology that can grind or chip wood while also reducing the moisture content, portable pyrolysis technology, mobile pellet plant technology, and digital approaches to woody biomass collection logistics in urban as well as rural/forested areas. 

Known approaches not of interest

Unless significant performance/cost breakthroughs or innovative applications can be achieved, the following collection technologies represent known state-of-the-art and are thus not of interest:

  • Hand pruners
  • Loppers
  • Chain saws
  • Kaiser blades
  • Crane and bucket
  • Drum chipper
Success criteria

Required:

  • Must NOT increase the cost of mechanical treatment and removal to roadside, OR, the cost must be justified by the relevant biomass supply and quality 
  • Increases bulk density of woody biomass for transportation
  • If applicable, adheres to ANSI A300 standards

Desired:

  • Must support CARB emissions standards as well as California regulations that govern on-road trucking and limit vehicle dimensions and gross vehicle weight (GVW) 
  • Produce no more emissions than would occur by a well-managed,  “prescribed” burning or “hazard reduction” forest fire burning program
  • Supports a cost of collection cost of under $15 per Bone Dry Ton
  • Enables moisture reduction to be done at location of biomass or reduces the amount of pretreatment drying needed if sent to a gasifier
  • Reduces or eliminates the pre-treatment requirements for gasification 
  • Can be commercially deployed in 1 to 3 years
  • Leverage opportunities to reduce variable costs

More solicitations...
Woody Biomass

Problem
Woody Biomass is today an underutilized resource for reuse in other products, especially in the case of biomass considered “non-merchantable.” Finding novel ways to increase the value of products created from woody biomass, or, reduce the cost and/or increase the safety of woody biomass collection could benefit utilities, landowners, and communities and citizens across California.
Desired properties
Optimize for the highest value per mmBTU
High-value products, either for energy production or non-energy purposes

Woody Biomass

Problem
Transportation of woody biomass from a collection site to either a concentration/feedstock yard or to a conversion facility accounts for roughly 25% to 50% of the total delivered cost. Densification and moisture reduction can be important in reducing transportation costs, and most existing densification technologies are prohibitively expensive.
Desired properties
Increases bulk density of woody biomass for transportation
Delivered cost below $5/mmBTU to a location roughly 50 miles away
Reduces moisture content to below 15%