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Keeping it Simple

Sometimes it just makes sense to keep things simple. That has definitely been the case for Pine Star Logging in Prince George, British Columba, which has gone from a full-scale stump to dump logging operation to a two-man show that produces wood fibre for a major wood pellet production facility.


October 15, 2010
By Bill Tice

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Sometimes it just makes sense to keep things simple. That has definitely been the case for Pine Star Logging in Prince George, British Columba, which has gone from a full-scale stump to dump logging operation to a two-man show that produces wood fibre for a major wood pellet production facility.

simple  
Pine Star Logging in Prince George, British Columbia, has simplified, going from a full-scale stump to dump logging operation to supplying a local pellet plant with wood fibre. Pine Star invested in a Bandit Beast 3680 grinder from local dealer Brandt Tractor, and a Madill 1800 loader for feeding the grinder.


 

“We made the switch in 2008,” recalls Keith Brandner, manager of Pine Star, which is owned by Keith’s family and operated by Keith and his brother Neal. “Pacific BioEnergy, which operates a large pellet plant in Prince George, put out RFPs (requests for proposals) for the plant’s fibre supply. We were successful in our bid, so we sold most of our logging gear and invested in a new grinder and loader in late 2008.”

Pine Star was started in 1986 by Keith’s and Neal’s father, Ray Brandner, and the boys grew up logging for Canadian Forest Products Ltd. (Canfor), which has a number of solid wood and pulp and paper operations in the region. At one point, they were harvesting approximately 300,000 cubic metres annually for Canfor. But with amalgamations and changes with the province’s major licensees, the Brandners had already made a conscious decision to make changes to their business by the fall of 2004, when they sold their contracts and moved to harvesting wood on a small business scale.

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“Things were changing in the logging business, and we really saw bioenergy as the beginning of a brand new industry because what was once considered waste now had new value,” explains Keith. “We made this significant investment because we saw a future in bioenergy, and the portability of our operation means we can go wherever we need to and harvest what has previously been left behind on the forest floor.”

Investing for the Future
The investment Keith refers to was about $750,000, which bought Pine Star a brand new Bandit Beast 3680 grinder from local dealer Brandt Tractor and a Madill 1800 loader for feeding the grinder. They kept a Caterpillar D6 dozer from their previous operations, which they use for clearing blocks and roads as needed. Log trucks have been replaced by contract chip trucks, which haul the fibre from the bush to the Pacific BioEnergy plant.

“It’s a really simple operation,” adds Keith. “I run the Bandit and Neal runs the Madill. We produce about 200 ODT (oven dried tonnes) of fibre per day in a 10- to 12-hour shift, and we do that five days a week. And if one of us has to be away for some reason, we have some regular guys that can fill in.”

As for the trucking side of things, Keith says they schedule the trucks at set intervals to minimize waiting time for the truckers in the woods. Pine Star contracts the trucking to Excel Transportation Inc. in Prince George, which has a fleet of 53-foot walking-floor trailers. Right now, the brothers are working about an hour from Prince George, so they have six trucks transporting two loads each per day.

Sourcing the Gear
When it came time to acquire the new gear for Pine Star’s wood fibre operation, they searched for a grinder that could take the sometimes rough conditions faced in British Columbia’s interior, and one that could handle a wide range of input material in terms of size and species. For the loader, they needed a machine with the power, torque, and log handling capacity to feed the Bandit grinder efficiently.

“We have been really happy with the results we have been getting, and our customer is happy with the product, especially the size consistency of the ground fibre, which is essentially hog fuel,” notes Keith. “It’s almost all softwood that we process. There’s a lot of aspen around, but it’s green and the moisture content is high, which means it’s not as good for pellets, so we try to avoid having it in the mix.”

Much of what the Brandners have been processing for the past year is immature beetle-killed wood. They were originally running slash, but in early 2009, they ran a test on some 30-year-old beetle-killed pine that was slated for burning. “It had already been felled and it was going to be burned to make room for young seedlings, so we asked if we could run some on a trial. It worked well for us and, as far as we are concerned, this was a much better way to get some value from it. These were trees that were 30 feet long and less than six inches in diameter. They were too small for the sawmill, but great for us, as processing a whole tree is far more efficient than processing slash.”

Looking Forward
Keith says there’s no shortage of this type of wood in British Columbia’s central interior and thinks they should have enough raw material to last them for some time. But they’re not the only ones singing the praises of this new business model. “The work Pine Star and Pacific BioEnergy are doing highlights the potential for wood bioenergy in forestry’s future,” said Pat Bell, the province’s minister of forests and range, while touring a Pine Star grinding site. “The forest sector has an important role to play in advancing B.C.’s green energy advantage, and Pine Star is an excellent example of a smaller, local company finding new ways to obtain more value from our forests.”

Once the fibre gets to Pacific BioEnergy, it is primarily used for pellet production for the plant’s overseas fuel customers. It looks like Pacific BioEnergy will continue to be a long-term customer for Pine Star, as earlier this year, the pellet producer announced a strategic partnership with GDF Suez, a global energy provider based in Europe. The partnership will support a $24-million expansion of Pacific BioEnergy’s current Prince George plant, which will be owned and operated by a new joint venture company.

In addition to its interest in the joint venture, GDF Suez has agreed to purchase 2.5 million tonnes of wood pellets from the plant over the next 10 years. The pellets will replace approximately two million tonnes of coal used at GDF Suez’s electrical generating facilities in Belgium, which the company says will reduce net CO2 emissions by more than four million tonnes.

For Pine Star Logging, simplifying has been a good thing. “With the downturn in the forest industry, it’s been tough for many loggers over the past couple of years, and when we crunched the numbers, this move to biomass just made sense,” explains Keith. “I think there is a huge future in biomass, and we are quite willing to stay the course and see where it leads us. Right now, it makes sense for us to stay small. We are efficient, we can produce a good product, and we can utilize what was once considered waste.


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