"We are seeing a lot of biomass facilities, cogeneration plants, opening up," Campbell agrees. "It is going to expand just due to the cost of fossil fuels increasing and the fluctuation in the cost. People are looking at renewable resources. Wood is one of the greatest renewable resources that we have."
The market really depends on the region of the country. "In the Northeast and some places in the Midwest, fuel wood prices went up to where contractors are changing their land clearing schemes to allow them to reclaim that material," says Morey.
Campbell has also observed this trend. "Ever since biomass has opened up, instead of discharging product to the ground like they had in the past, a lot of contractors are trying to find a market in which to sell the end product," he states.
Some larger contractors have actually invested in both chippers and grinders. "The bigger ones - if there is a fuel market in the area - are into both mulch and fuel," says Morey.
A clean approach
Chippers do dictate that material be handled differently from a grinder. You have to take more precautions to prevent excess wear on the knives, which means the material must be kept a lot cleaner.
"Let's say you push the material in a pile with bulldozers. That creates two problems," says Morey. "It is difficult to get out of the pile, and more than likely you are going to roll some dirt and rock in there, which is hard on the knives. The guys who are doing land clearing using a chipper are also using a feller buncher. They are using a mechanized machine to cut and pile the material."
To operate a chipper efficiently, material flow and placement on the site are crucial. "It is better to stage or stockpile the material to maximize production," says Rieckoff. "The contractor should also consider placement of the chipper on a jobsite. Position the machine for optimal production by placing it as close to the project as possible, thereby reducing the time it takes to move materials to the chipper."
An inefficient setup - where material must be hauled to the chipper and it is not being constantly fed - will drive up costs. "I have been on jobsites where the chipper is running at full throttle, but materials are not being fed into the unit," says Rieckoff. "This puts more hours on the machine and costs money in terms of fuel and operating costs."
Keeping blades sharp and periodically replacing them is also key to efficient chipper operation. "Chippers are fairly straightforward to be honest with you," says Campbell. However, he cautions that you need to take a close look at how replacement blades are manufactured. "Some knives are stamped vs. those that are actually cut. There is a difference between the durability and the wear."
CHIPPER SAVES DISPOSAL COSTS
The company started using roll-offs to get rid of debris from its site clearing operations. "We were paying around $500 for a roll-off," recalls Demarr. But then the cost began to rise. "They got up to $700. So then we decided to buy a demolition trailer and tractor and haul the material ourselves." The cost for dumping a demo trailer of material was around $775. To minimize the amount of material being hauled away, Demarr decided to investigate the purchase of a chipper.
The company starting out looking at bigger chippers. But its jobsites are fairly confined, plus Demarr couldn't justify the purchase price. "I thought about one of those self-propelled chippers that has tracks on it, but they are around $200,000," he says. Even a used tub grinder proved to be more expensive. A step above that is a horizontal grinder priced at around $650,000.
Ultimately, the local Morbark dealer suggested an 18-in. chipper model. Demarr was sceptical due to its small size. However, it was capable of chipping up to 15-in. material, which was the largest diameter the company required. "Anything over 15 in., we sell the lumber," says Demarr.
Once it was delivered, Demarr fed the chipper with a Hitachi 350 excavator with a hydraulic thumb attachment. The trees and brush had to be prepared before being fed into the chipper - the limbs were cut off and the brush was fed in separately. Even so, the productivity of the chipper surprised Demarr. "It is perfect for us," he states. "We will set it up and bring the material to it. It will eat that stuff up."
Demarr may take down 20 trees on a jobsite. Most of the wood is chipped on site and blown back onto the ground, where the chips are mixed with the soil. For the stumps, he has relationships with other contractors in the area who own grinders, allowing for economical disposal. These contractors will grind the stumps and sell the end product.
Operating costs have proven to be minimal. "The only thing you have to be careful with is you have to change the blades," says Demarr. "If the blades are sharp, that stuff will go right through there. If the blades are dull, then you might have problems. You can burn up a clutch."
Demarr has found it more cost effective to just replace the blades rather than re-sharpen them. "We go online and buy the blades," he explains. "You can buy the blades for $160, so it's not worth it for us to sharpen them."
The blades are double sided, so if you get 20 hours before the cutting edge is changed, it means they will cost you $80 every 40 hours, Demarr points out. This really depends on how you handle the materials. "If you run a lot of dirt in there, you are only going to get about 10 hours on your knives. We try to keep our stuff pretty clean when we send it through there," he says. In addition, by simply replacing the blades, the anvil on the chipper doesn't need to be readjusted, so there is less chance of error.
Demarr has seen immediate returns on his roughly $50,000 chipper investment. He estimates it has the potential to save two demo trailer loads on each job, or about $1,600 in dumping fees. This equates to $17,000 to $18,000 per year. "We figure in about three years we will probably get it back," says Demarr. "It depends how much you are chipping. It could be less."
However, Demarr cautions that the decision about which machine makes the most sense really depends on your business model and job size. "Everybody has a different way of doing business," he comments.
Chipper or Grinder?
"The decision should be based on their business model and the size of the product to be processed," he states. "Do they plan to focus on tree takedowns or large site clearing projects? Another area to consider - is there an outlet for the resulting end products? There are more outlets for a ground product that is produced by a tub or horizontal grinder."
Other considerations include: