Feedstox biomass harvesting fleet nearly fully assembled

By Holly Jessen | May 22, 2012

With the purchase of two new pieces of equipment Feedstox is prepared to begin executing contracts to harvest biomass in less than two weeks, says Jeff Roskam, CEO of the Kansas Alliance for Biorefining and Bioenergy. The recently purchased Challenger combine-baler combination equipment has a unique capability. “It harvests the wheat and bales in the same pass and the straw never hits the ground,” he said.

The equipment, which is manufactured by Agco Corp., can be utilized the same way in corn fields or to harvest switchgrass and miscanthus. Because the biomass never hits the ground, cellulosic ethanol producers would see 5 to 6 percent ash content. Ash is material that cannot be converted into useable product, including dirt. “Very few of these models are on the global market today,” said Todd Stucke, director of marketing hay and harvesting for Agco.  

The two new pieces of equipment are part of a fleet of seven assembled by KABB, the parent company of Feedstox, with the help of a $4.8 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds administered by the Kansas Department of Commerce. Although a few remaining pieces of support equipment, such as trailers and a truck to pull equipment, will be purchased in the next few weeks, the organization has essentially reached its total investment goal. “We are within a couple hundred thousand dollars of the final amount,” Roskam said.

Feedstox’s goal is to improve the efficiency of harvesting, storing and transporting biomass. Leasing out the equipment or contracting with farmers to harvest biomass provides opportunities to demonstrate specialty equipment in real-world conditions, proving their commercial value. “The idea is, we want to be able to be a pipeline for new and innovative equipment,” he said. A secondary, and also important purpose, is to gather data on everything from harvesting cost to improvements in greenhouse gas emissions.

The majority of Feedstox’s equipment is for producing or moving square bales. While the recently purchased Challengers have single-pass capability, other pieces of equipment are designed to harvest biomass after grain harvest has been completed. One unit in the fleet is used for torrefaction, or heating biomass, typically wood, to remove moisture and convert it into a coal-like substance. In the future, the fleet will likely be expanded to include additional pieces of equipment, Roskam said.

The company’s model is flexible given the situation, meaning in some cases it will harvest biomass for farmers and give it back to them and in other cases farmers will pay for the harvest with the biomass. The material for which Feedstox retains title to can be used to produce cellulosic ethanol, he says, adding that the company is in communication with future producers. Still, it is expected that a large portion of the biomass harvested will go for animal feed. “We have a lot more capacity with these machines than those plants will take in the next few years,” he told EPM. In order to expand that market, the group is working on a collaboration to treat corn stover with lime to increase digestibility.

Another goal is to reduce the cost of harvesting biomass. “According to our calculations, the use of this equipment—along with our new-generation bale stacking, load and unloading equipment—has the potential to cut biomass harvesting costs by about 40 percent on a fully allocated cost basis,”  Roskam said. “In a time when corn input costs to an ethanol plant are about $2 per gallon, cellulosic refiners using corn stover could cut input costs in one-half while reducing price pressure on corn supplies.”