A Comparison of Chipper Productivity, Chip Characteristics, and Nutrient Removals from Two Woody Biomass Harvesting Treatments
Increased costs of fossil fuels, regulatory policies, and investments by federal and state governments have caused increased interest and incentive for the use of wood as a renewable form of energy. As a result, landowners and forest managers are considering chipping whole trees and harvesting residues as a means to meet increased demand of wood chips as a renewable source of energy. However, the profitability, productivity gains, and sustainability of these alternative harvesting methods continue to be an area of research. The objective of this study was to compare two biomass harvesting treatments with regard to the characteristics of the chips they produced, chipper productivity, nutrient removals, and site disturbance. The first biomass harvesting treatment was an integrated harvest where roundwood was merchandized and hauled to the appropriate mill and limbs, tops, and small stems (residues) were chipped for hog fuel. The second biomass harvesting treatment simulated a scenario where biomass markets were competing with pulpwood markets and landowners could choose to sell wood for energy or pulp wood. In this treatment whole trees and small stems were chipped for hog fuel. A third harvesting treatment was a conventional roundwood harvest where no wood was chipped, and this treatment was used as a control for comparison of nutrient removals and site disturbance. The chips produced from both harvesting treatments were very similar, but those produced from whole trees tended to be slightly smaller than those produced from residues. Chipper productivity was significantly higher when chipping whole trees and it was also much more efficient in terms of fuel use. Estimations of nutrient removals showed that there was very little difference in the amount of nutrient removed from the biomass harvesting treatments, but both treatments removed significantly more N and Ca than the conventional roundwood harvesting treatment. There was significantly more downed and standing material left on the site after harvesting in the conventional treatment, but this did not translate into a large amount of additional nutrients left on the site. There was little difference in soil disturbance between all three treatments, and due to the dry soil conditions during harvesting, there was very little visual soil disturbance at all during harvesting.