US Forest Service Woody Biomass Utilization

Woody Biomass Utilization

Forest Residue Bundling Evaluation (FRBE)

Picture of a John Deere bundling machine in action.

Issue: The National Fire Plan outlines a coordinated effort to address overstocked conditions in western forests. A recent inventory found that at least 110 million bdt of non-merchantable biomass (limbs, tops, and small-diameter stems) could be removed just from high-risk stands. A significant challenge to recovering nonmerchantable material is the difficulty of handling and transporting many small pieces. Bundling or baling these residues offers the potential to reduce transport and handling costs. This technology is currently used in Scandinavia to recover biomass for energy production. However, there is little information available on its potential application in western fuel treatment conditions.

Study Description: The objective of this project is to quantify biomass bundler operation in a range of typical western conditions, documenting productivity, impacts, and treatment outcomes. Specifically, the project will examine effects of:

  • Terrain and site layout (slope and travel distances)
  • Species (pinyon-juniper, lodgepole pine, firs)
  • Pre-treatment conditions (scattered logging slash, cut-to-length (CTL) residuals, landing piles)
  • Stand conditions (volume per acre, material size, residual spacings)

The general approach is a series of project case studies. By using the same machine and operator at all locations, differences would be specific to the site conditions. Each project site will involve pretreatment measurements, elemental production study, post-treatment measurement of effects, and technology transfer through "field day" demonstration. Bundles produced at various locations will be available for utilization and samples will be taken to assess energy content.

Status: The studies began June 23, 2003, in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, and continued through the summer. The links in the following table lead to information, results, and images for each of the demonstrations.

Final Report:

FOREST RESIDUES BUNDLING PROJECT, New Technology for Residue Removal (May 2004) (PDF, 1.05 MB)

Rummer, Bob, Dan Len and Obie O’Brien. 2003. FOREST RESIDUES BUNDLING PROJECT, New Technology for Residue Removal. Internal Report. U. S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Forest Operations Research Unit, Southern Research Station, Auburn, Alabama. 18p.

Demonstration Site Information for the Evaluation of Forest Residue Bundling Technology with the "John Deere Bundler"
Agency / Location Date Highlight
1) Western Governors' Association, Forest Health Summit Demonstration, Missoula, MT June 17 - 19, 2003 John Deere Corporation conducted demonstration.
2) Idaho Panhandle National Forest, Bonners Ferry, ID June 23 to July 9, 2003 Local grinding operation to test for hog fuel.
3) Brandt-In-The-Woods Equipment Demonstration, Kamloops, British Columbia July 12, 2003 Equipment "In-the-Woods" demonstration.
4) Oregon Department of Forestry and Wallowa Whitman National Forest, Lagrande, OR July 16 - 18, 2003 USDA Forest Service & Oregon Department of Forestry collaboration.
5) Boise National Forest, Idaho City, ID July 21 to August 1, 2003 Ponderosa pine, variety of sites and conditions.
6) Bitterroot Valley, Darby, MT August 4 - 14, 2003 USDA Forest Service and State & Private Forestry supported demonstration on private ownership.
7) Bureau of Land Management BLM), Medford Area August 18 - 29, 2003 BLM & Boise Cascade Corporation cooperated to compare bundling to traditional fuels treatments.
8) Eldorado National Forest September 1 - 12, 2003 Fuels treatment of thinning slash.
9) Deschutes National Forest September 15 - 26, 2003 USDA Forest Service & Bureau of Land Management collaboration; Utilization by Warm Springs Tribe cogeneration.

Preliminary Executive Summary (August 28, 2003): The John Deere 1490D Slash Bundler is new technology designed specifically to collect and densify forest residues. This innovation transforms small, difficult to handle material into larger packages that can be manipulated and transported with conventional forest operations equipment (trucks, loaders, forwarders). This is proven technology in Scandinavia with more than 20 machines operating.

The Forest Residues Bundling Evaluation project is examining this equipment in western U.S. conditions. The machine is being tested on seven different forest sites with a range of species, terrain, and fuels treatment. Productivity, soil disturbance, residual stand impacts, and operational performance are measured at every site. In addition, each site has hosted a public demonstration day for technology transfer. Support for the project has involved grass-roots partnerships with industrial users, John Deere corporation, local governments, state and federal land management agencies, Forest Service research and contractors.

Preliminary findings show that the productivity of the machine is significantly affected by steep slopes, residual stand spacing, and down fuel loading. It has demonstrated the capability of operating on slopes up to 40% and can collect even scattered large material if necessary. Production has ranged from 6.5 bundles per hour to over 10 bundles per hour operating in the stand. Bundling out of landing slash piles neared 20 bundles per hour. Cost per acre will be primarily a function of fuel loading-bundling 50 tons per acre for example might cost over $1000 per acre whereas 10 tons per acre could be achieved for $300 per acre. It is clear that the preceding fuels treatment can significantly affect the productivity of the bundler by altering the distribution of the residue material.

The demonstration days have received positive response from public, media, congressional staff and agency personnel. The minimal visual impact of the operation, option for a smokeless fuel treatment and recovery of biomass value are often cited as benefits. The most critical issues raised have been the initial capital cost ($450K), the operational costs of the treatment vs. value of biomass and lack of markets for the bundled material in many areas. Viewing the bundler has generated discussions about potential alternative biomass densification methods.

Initially, the bundles were intended to be hauled on conventional logging trailers. In order to adequately support the bundles, however, either longer bundles would need to be produced or trailer bunk spacing would need to be shortened. The machine has the capability to easily produce 16' bundles which addresses this issue. However, there have been some observations of loose debris from the loads. Some loads have been transported in solid bins to confine the material. Getting adequate payload on conventional trailers for cost-effective highway transport is also an issue. Further evaluation of transportation requirements is necessary.

Samples from the bundles have been tested at the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison to quantify heat content. Initial findings show values in the expected range for woody biomass (~8000 btu/lb). Bundles have been processed into hog fuel in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and California at different generation facilities. Other applications have been discussed such as stream stabilization structures, erosion control, firewood collection or simply concentration for in-woods disposal.

Bundling slash would be a preferred treatment where burning is limited, where low-impact stand treatments are desired, where there is very little merchantable volume in the fuels treatment, or where biomass markets are nearby. The costs of bundling must be allocated against both the fuels treatment value (avoided treatment and/or suppression costs) and the market value of the recovered biomass. Currently, in many places, just the transportation of biomass to existing markets would exceed the market value of the fiber. Certainly the economic feasibility of this type of treatment will be greatly affected by the resolution of current legislative proposals in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act and the Energy Bill.

While the study plan for the Forest Residue Bundling Evaluation is addressing some fundamental questions about the application of this technology, additional analysis is indicated. There have been macro-economic questions raised about how many bundling machines would be needed in a given area, the labor and economic impact associated with this new technology, and interactions with related fuels treatment operations (thinning contractors, planning teams). Questions have been raised about more detailed review of a range of ecological effects, from wildlife to soils. More evaluation of the effect of accepting significant quantities of bundles at biomass facilities, woodyard handling and processing equipment, impact of storing biomass in bundle form, and effects on boiler performance is needed.

The depth of interest and grass-roots commitment to this project indicates that the time is right to be examining tools for biomass recovery and fuels treatment. Clearly bundling is not going to be economically viable in every application. However, the findings of this project will lead to a better understanding of the appropriate applications for bundling equipment. This project website is maintaining study information and serves as a central clearinghouse for interest in this project and related technology.


  • Improved utilization of forest residues for energy production
  • Improved transportability of forest residues
  • Alternative for areas where prescribed fire is not an option

Partners: John Deere, USDA Forest Service-Forest Operations Research, Small Diameter Utilization Program, Forest Products Lab, State and Private Forestry R-1/4, Idaho Panhandle National Forest, Boise National Forest, Deschutes-Ochoco National Forest, Eldorado National Forest; Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management, Medford District.

Biomass Bundler Media Links

Related Links

USDA Forest Service, Forest Operations And Engineering Research-Southern Research Station
520 Devall Drive Auburn, Alabama 36849 (334) 826-8700.

US Forest Service
Woody Biomass Utilization Team
Sidney R.Yates Federal Building
3rd Floor Southwest
201 14th Street, S.W. at Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

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Last modified: Thursday, 06-Oct-2016 15:57:21 CDT