Improving logistics for energy crops

The LogistEC project supported by FP7 aimed to develop new or improved technologies of the biomass logistics chains. Cost-efficient, environmental-friendly and socially sustainable biomass supply chains are needed to achieve the 2020 EU RES targets that might be impeded by the potential scarcity of lignocellulosic biomass from agriculture. The project covered all types of lignocellulosic crops: annual and multi-annual crops, perennial grasses, and short-rotation coppice.

Project Brochure: HERE

Publishable summary of project: HERE

LogistEC- sustainable biomass supply chains in terms of environmental economic and social impacts The project focused on improvement of all biomass value chain components and assesses the sustainability in terms of environmental, economic and social impacts. Innovative techniques for crop management, biomass harvesting, storage and transport were tested and developed to increase biomass supply whilst keeping costs down and minimizing adverse environmental impacts.

Timeline: the project is ran from September 2012 until the end of February 2016, with a budget of 3.5M€ for its activities.

Target groups: feedstock producers, biomass project developers, rural communities, farming industries, supply chain, retail, logistics and transport companies, end-users of biomass, NGOs and consumer associations, policy makers and scientists.

Optimizing bioenergy supply chains:
Barriers to the optimal use of supply chains include scattered and bulky nature of biomass, high moisture content, sub-optimal harvesting systems, biomass deterioration during storage and transport etc. The project delivered 4 types of results to provide guidance on chain improvements:

  • A set of benchmarks for currently-commercial technologies, and the improvements developed during the project

  • a set of methods, models tools to integrate, design and assess supply chains

  • data bases on logistic chains (relative to individual pieces of equipment, feedstock management, yields, and sustainability criteria)

  • some examples of chain implementation, documenting their feasibility, the application of the project’s data bases and tools, and their overall performance and sustainability

The main results and recommendations pertaining to the various components of the logistics chains are listed below

Feedstock production:
Innovative crop management practices such as intercropping or multifunctional land use and recycling of process residues and other waste streams were developed to maintain soil quality, reduce environmental impacts and increase economic profitability. For instance, the use of legume-grass inter-crops reduced the energy use and direct emissions of greenhouse gases by up to 70% per GJ of biomass produced compared to pure grass crops.

Harvesting biomass:
Regarding perennial grasses, a new single-pass system was developed by a partner of the project and compared to a traditional system involving 3 passes with a tractor. The novel system (see photograph on Figure 2) saved up to 25% in fuel consumption compared to the traditional one, altogether with a larger throughput and a 15% larger yield per hectare. A range of currently operating commercial systems for harvesting short-rotation coppices were benchmarked in terms of throughput, fuel consumption, and costs. Medium to large-scale systems based on forage harvesters came out as the most interesting in terms of labour requirements, throughput and overall costs, and were further developed by a partner of the project.

New pre-treatment technologies:
Different technologies were tested to densify biomass after harvest from both grassy and woody species, in the form of pellets or briquettes. Thermal treatments of biomass (ie by heating the biomass) proved useful to produce much denser forms of biomass, thereby saving transportation and storage costs while delivering higher-quality energy carriers for use in the generation of heat and power. A novel form of pre-treatment was developed for grasses, using a wet processing route, and produced a solid biofuel which met the most stringent quality standards for such commodities. This process also makes it possible to recover most of the nutrients from the crop, which may then be recycled on the energy crops plantation – thereby saving nutrient inputs. This option was tested in the project, and highlighted the potential to use these effluents to produce biogas. The use of briquetting (a form of biomass densification) proved very efficient to cut down costs and greenhouse gas emissions in the miscanthus case-study in Burgundy.

Multi-criteria assessment, models:
A holistic framework was developed to integrate chain components and assess their sustainability in terms of environmental, economic and social impacts. It enabled an economic optimization of the supply chains and an overall sustainability assessment of these solutions, making the most of the progresses achieved in the logistics components. The model will also help to explore various scenarios.

The developed system was tested in bio-energy and bio-materials projects all across Europe. Improved logistics were demonstrated at a pilot and industrial scales in 2 regions (Eastern
France and Southern Spain) for existing bio-energy and bio-materials value chains. All technology developments were carried out with industrial partners in order to speed up their transfer to the market.