How Low Can You Go? Low-Input Biomass Production and Lowest-Cost Logistics Analysis

Joy Agnew, P. Eng., Ph.D.
Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute Humboldt, Saskatchewan, Canada
Phone: (306) 682-5033 ext 280

Dedicated energy crop production is a way for biorefineries to grow their own fuel or a way for producers to extract value from marginal land. Woody crops have received the most attention and research, but many producers still have questions about agricultural crops such as miscanthus and switchgrass. What yields can be expected? Can sustainable yields be produced on marginal land with zero inputs? How critical is timing of harvest to ensure high yield and quality? Which crops will produce the most biomass on the Canadian Prairies? These are some of the questions that PAMI has addressed in a series of projects dealing with biomass production. This presentation will highlight some of these findings for crops such as miscanthus, forage sorghum and wheatgrass.

The costs and challenges associated with collection, processing, transportation and storage of large quantities of biomass are often overlooked in the early stages of development for a biorefinery. Conversion processes and markets for the products are usually defined first, then attention turns to biomass supply. PAMI developed a simple tool to assess the logistics costs and assess factors such as required draw radius, cost of storage and whether field-side or centralized processing reduces overall delivery costs. A few simple case studies that used this tool will be outlined during the presentation, including an assessment of the cost to deliver biomass to a large coal-fired electricity generation plant for co-firing.