Metla uutiskirje

Metla Bulletin

June 30, 2014
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In the future, small-sized thinning wood must be transported to its place of use from farther and farther away – there are profitable alternatives

It is also worthwhile to transport small timber to its place of use from farther away – presupposing that a suitable mode of transportation or a combination of modes can be found for each situation and set of conditions. New trucks with more capacity are often a more cost-effective alternative to expensive rail transport. Rail transport is more competitive than road transport only when work is close to train terminals and when the distance is long enough. As a whole, the delimbed stem wood chain is more cost-effective than the whole tree chain. In the international Enerwoods project, Metla compared the transport costs of different combinations in the Kokkola-Kainuu axis.

Rail terminal near the Kokkola power plant (top) and small sized thinning wood in a young forest in Finland (bottom). The need for transporting forest energy by rail may increase in the future with increasing transport distances. Photos: Metla/Juha Laitila

The use of forest energy has been growing steadily in Finland. According to statistics in the year 2000, the use of forest energy was below one million solid cubic metres, while in 2012 the amount had grown to over 7.6 million solid cubic metres. With the increasing demand for forest biomass and the tougher competition, transport distances will also increase in the future.

The research, funded by the ENERWOODS project, compared the long-distance transport solutions for small-sized thinning wood from young forests, and the possibilities of combining road and rail forest biomass supply chains for a combined heat and power production plant (CHP plant) in Kokkola. There is already competition for the availability of forest chips in the vicinity of the plant.
The energy wood was procured from over 200 kilometres away in Kainuu, where there are fewer end users and a readier availability for unutilised forest chips.

Of the supply chains included in the research, four were based on whole tree harvesting and five on pruned tree harvesting. The alternative combinations of various small timber transport modes included rail transport, traditional 60-ton road transport and, allowed by the new mass limitations in effect since October 2013, the 68 and 76-ton road transport modes.

With regard to chains based on whole tree harvesting, the transportation was assessed with the wood both chipped and non-chipped. With regard to delimbed stem wood harvesting, only the transportation of non-chipped round timber was assessed. The container transportation of combined road and rail transportation was only modelled in two chains based on whole trees.

Example of visualisation with the ArcGIS software: There is a difference between the procurement costs and the distribution of costs in the procurement area between a supply chain based on rail transport (left image) and a supply chain based on road transport (right image). (© Road Administration/Digiroad 2010, MML, licence MYY/179/06-V, © RHK, MML, licence MYY/179/06-V and Kainuu approach map modified from the following address:
Map drawn by: Mikko Nivala (Metla, Joensuu))

Wood is transported most cost-effectively on wheels.

According to the research, delimbed stem wood chains are more cost-effective than whole tree chains. Furthermore, delimbed stem wood is easier to store than wood chips, which brings additional benefits to the balancing of the fluctuations in the supply and demand for energy wood. These results support earlier results concerning the subject. 

Rail transport modes only proved to be more cost-effective than traditional road transport in limited areas around rail terminals when the transport distance was long enough. Road transport was cheaper than rail transport due to the high rail transport charges. According to the research, new investments will allow the transportation of small timber even from farther away, where forest energy is more readily available, with solutions using containers that can easily be moved between different modes of transport, rail transport of delimbed stem wood and large articulated lorries.


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Header image: Metla/Essi Puranen, Photos: Metla/Erkki Oksanen, unless otherwise stated