Bio-E - Bioénergies

Mechanization and optimization of techniques for the production and harvest forest biomass coming from specific cultures – MECABIOFOR

Towards more efficient mechanization of energy crops to improve attractiveness of forest biomass.

The development of lignocellulosic energy crops (Short Rotation Coppice or Very Short Rotation Coppice and Semi-Dedicated plantations) is conditioned by technical innovations on plantation, weeding and harvest of these stands. To lower costs, while facilitating the work, is a real challenge.

Industrialize plantation, weed and harvest techniques for biomass crops.

The harvest of biomass, with rotations generally less than 10 years old, is a strategic stake to face an increasing demand for lignocellulosic biomass to be used as energy (bioenergy) or for bio-industrial production (such as green chemistry). <br /> <br />These specific forest crops (SRC, VSRC, and SD) will contribute to the provision of such lignocellulosic raw material. <br /> <br />However, traditional & mostly manual production methods which prevailed until now, from the plantation to the harvest operations, are not economically viable any more. <br /> <br />Therefore, it is necessary to rationalize the mechanization of the operations connected to these cultures (plantation, weeding and harvest) to decrease their costs while facilitating the working conditions (ergonomics of workstations) of the workforce, which is diminishing. <br />Choices regarding equipments and cultural techniques are also directed, so they also integrate environmental aspects. <br />MECAbiofor’s results are relevant on the international level. In fact, many European countries (Germany, Italy, Poland, United Kingdom) are interested in the development of these crops. <br />

Needs specified by practitioners and the evaluation of existing equipments undertaken by all partners, allowed to define the functional specifications of equipments to be developed. Performance in forest conditions was the primary objective. In fact, the working conditions are very different from the traditional agriculture sector: uneven terrain, slope, stumps, woody debris, hardwoods more difficult to cut…

Preliminary designs were elaborated by researchers, associated with the industrial partners, the cooperatives and the manufacturer Vigneau Matériels Forestiers for the shear heads.
Hence, feasibility and technological state of progress lead collaborative work of the partners to result in:
- equipments tested in real conditions and improved in order to have marketable machines,
- prototypes of machines.
Information collected during the tests allowed the completion of economical and environmental syntheses.

MECAbiofor’s results on equipments for:
• plantation,
- a new and more ergonomic planting cane,
- a kit for the evolution of a medium horticultural capacity planter in a forest planter,
- a prototype of big capacity planter.
• weeding,
- a prototype of a precision weeding machine with GPS guidance.
• harvest,
- a more performant shear head,
- a prototype of a saw disc felling head,
- a prototype of a length sensor for shear heads.
All the improvements should lead to a reduction of the production costs of chips (8 to 20% depending on the crops, except VSRC) without degradation of GHG emissions.

Currently, barriers to the development of woody biomass crops are not linked to the mechanization for which MECAbiofor provides answers, but to the forest policy setback (less subsidies), the decrease of reforestation and societal changes instead. Therefore, the machines and equipments were designed to be used also in traditional forest stands. Hence, prospects of industrial development, in France and abroad, are important for most of the developed equipments (prototypes included).

Two scientific papers were presented on international conferences: the length sensor (RHEA, Madrid 2014) and life cycle analysis of woody biomass crops (FEC, Gérardmer, 2014). Results of the shear heads were presented during field demonstration at the latter conference hosted by FCBA.

An «enveloppe Soleau« (a simpler and less costly procedure than a patent) was filed by the manufacturer VIGNEAU and two others (plantation beak and planting cane) are foreseen. IRSTEA and AFB are exploring the possibility to apply for two patents concerning the planters.

The global area of specific cultures for forest biomass (short rotation coppices, very short rotation coppices and semi-dedicated stands) is strongly increasing because energy companies, agricultural and forestry cooperatives, pulp companies have been setting up new plantations with over 1000 ha per year during these last years.

The traditional and manual methods that prevailed until now, from the production of plants in nursery to the biomass harvest, is no longer possible: the costs are too high (especially for planting and harvesting), current techniques are not adapted to high planting density (density of 2 to 10 times greater than conventional forest plantations), furthermore the industry is facing a lack of manual workforce. Finally, the mechanization of these operations and its integration into specific crop management seems a promising way to reduce costs and facilitate the work (ergonomic of workstations), while taking into account the environment preservation (soil, stand ...).

The international state of the art and the field trials carried out by forestry cooperatives or FCBA highlight the inadequacy of most existing machines, mainly foreign, whether for planting, weeding and harvesting.

Therefore MECABIOFOR aims to create innovative tools to foster the development of lignocellulosic biomass crops (SRC, VSRC, semi-dedicated plantations) by ensuring their economic viability through technological innovations for planting, weeding and harvesting of these stands. The development of appropriate tools, combining both lightness, mechanical strength, accuracy and reduced cost is at each stage a technological challenge. The sum of these improvements represents a significant technological leap for strongly reducing the cost of production of forest biomass in these dedicated cultures.

To meet this objective, MECABIOFOR will be carried out over a period of 36 months and includes:
- Industrial partners (4 forestry cooperatives grouped under the umbrella of UCFF, Smurfit Kappa Comptoir des Pins, Tembec R & D Kraft),
- A public research partner (Cemagref), specialized in research concerning mechanical engineering,
- The industrial forest-based sector’s technical center (FCBA), which has over 30 years experience on dedicated and semi-dedicated biomass crops, which will involve outsourcing to an agricultural cooperative (InVivo).

In addition to the tasks of project management (task 1) and communication of the results (task 5), tasks 2 and 3 are intended to remove technological barriers from planting to biomass harvest. In this purpose, close collaboration will be conducted among field practitioners, with their experiences and their technical, economic, environmental and ergonomic expectations, and scientists providing scientific expertise. Many trials of existing materials, then design and tests of new machines are planned in these tasks. An economic and environmental synthesis, through a cycle analysis (LCA), will be performed in task 4 that will include the results of the two previous tasks. This task, which involves all the project partners, will provide a global technical vision on the developed machineries and the new biomass crop managements, in order to coordinate the different stages to reach the final economic gain.

Project coordinator

RUCH PHILIPPE (FCBA Institut Technologique) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


FCBA FCBA Institut Technologique
Cemagref/Irstea CEMAGREF/Irstea

Help of the ANR 939,500 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 36 Months

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