Louisiana Loggers Add Fuel Chip Operations

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Lincoln Logging Puts Bandit Chipper to Work in Cut-Overs, Before Loggers Begin

DUBACH, Louisiana — Sometimes one thing leads to another, and the net result is coincidence. Such is the case with Lincoln Logging.
Like many other logging companies, it started out cutting timber. However, the owners kept having the nagging feeling that they were missing a big opportunity in the slash and debris that was left behind when the job was done.
After toying for several years with the idea of processing the slash into boiler fuel, Lincoln Logging added operations that are proving as successful as its logging business.
This story begins in 2001, when Skip Grillot and Kent Greer got together and decided to start Lincoln Logging. Although the two men are quite different in age (Kent is 45 and Skip is 60), they had worked together for another company and got along very well.
“I’m a forester, and Kent is a logger, and one day we just got a wild hair and decided to get together and form this company,” Skip said. “We buy and cut timber and deliver it to a variety of mills in the area.”
Ironically, they looked at the first tract of timber they were going to cut on September 11, 2001. “I was in the woods and Kent was coming to meet me,” Skip recalled. “When he got there, he said, ‘I don’t know what’s happening, but there’s something big going on.’ ”
At that time, it was just the two of them. They bought some used logging equipment and went to work. They had plenty of experience between them. Kent, for example, started working as a logger for his father when he was in high school.
“We got a couple of boys to work for us, and started with one job and the old equipment,” Skip said. “It took all the money we had to put down payments on equipment, and we operated on that one job for maybe three months.” Then they hired another logger to cut a couple of tracts, and then yet another logger, and they were off and running.
“We’ve gotten bigger and smaller and bigger and smaller,” Skip said. “Right now we’re running two company crews and two contractors, so we have four jobs going.” Part of their success, Skip said, is an awareness of the marketplace. They pay attention to who needs what and plan their work accordingly.
Lincoln Logging’s crews cut tree-length timber, both saw timber and pulpwood. “We cut about 75 percent pine,” Skip said. “We work mostly within a 50-mile radius.”
Besides himself and Kent, Skip said, they employ two other foresters. One is Skip’s son Michael, who is 28, and the other is Bart Miller.
Lincoln Logging also has a crew with a Bandit Industries chipper to chip slash into boiler fuel. Kent and Skip considered going in this direction for quite a while, but they didn’t put the pieces together until this year. The chipping operation is organized as a separate business, Branch Timber.
Skip is a member of the Louisiana Logging Council and the American Logging Council. At every national meeting he has been to for a long time, he said, he’s heard discussion of fuel operations.
“I go to meetings and I hear loggers talking about what’s going on in their states,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with biomass, whether it’s wood pellets or co-generation of electricity through burning wood. I hear about it all.”
In 2006, one of Lincoln Loggings’ primary customers, Graphic Packaging in West Monroe, La., indicated it was interested in changing the fuel system at its mill and including more wood chips in their fuel mix.
“The fuel they’re using at their paper mill is being burned in a power boiler to generate electricity and produce steam,” Skip said. “If the boiler isn’t being fired with wood, it’s being fired with natural gas, and since the price of natural gas has gone up, Graphic Packaging was looking for additional sources of fuel.”
When Graphic Packaging told Skip and Kent they were going to be looking for fuel chips, they asked them if they would be interested in supplying them.
“I told them the same thing I always tell everyone,” Skip said. “We’re always interested in something new, until we have a chance to research it and see what it is and whether or not it’s something we can do. So I told him yes, we were interested.”
At the same time, Lincoln Logging was feeling some economic pressure in its logging operations. “All the mills had pretty good inventories of wood, and things sometimes get slow when all the mills are full and quotas start,” Skip said.
Kent and Skip discussed the idea of adding a fuel chipping operation between themselves and with Graphic Packaging. “We more or less committed to them right after the first of this year that we would provide wood chips for fuel for them,” Skip said. “But we also told them we wanted to take our time and look at equipment.”
When they took the plunge, Kent and Skip converted one of their logging crews to a chipping crew. “We sold a de-limber and bought a Bandit Industries chipper and some other equipment,” Skip said.
Kent and Skip invested in a Bandit model 2400 whole-tree chipper. The model 2400 is powered by a CAT 700 hp engine. It is equipped with a five wheel feed system and is a 24-inch disc-style chipper.
They made the decision to go with Bandit for several reasons. One was the level of customer service that they received from the moment they first made contact with the company.
“We took one week and started calling everyone who had chippers for sale, telling them we wanted to demo one of their chippers,” Skip said. “We found out that a lot of chipper manufacturers don’t have chippers available to demo that way.”
Even some of the well-known, large equipment manufacturers did not have chippers available for Kent and Skip to see in action. Instead, they wanted to show the men models that Kent and Skip already knew they did not want to buy.
After a series of phone calls, Skip and Kent connected with Bandit Industries, and the rapport was almost instantaneous. “They knocked themselves out,” Skip said. “They told us they were coming down our way for an equipment show and that they would be glad to bring the machine we wanted to see for us to demo.” That attitude told Kent and Skip something significant about the level of service they could expect from Bandit Industries.
“They’re a good company,” Skip said. “They came down and brought their chipper down for us to try. We also did get to try a few others, but Bandit seemed to us to be the best of the ones that we looked at. We tried it for three days and then bought it, but with the stipulation that they could take it to the equipment show in Hot Springs (Arkansas) the following week and then bring it back to us.”
From that point, it took about two weeks for Lincoln Logging to establish chipping operations. Kent and Skip experimented with a number of different approaches to material and how to get the job done, searching for the most efficient use of the equipment and labor. The niche they settled on was cleaning up cut-over land and chipping the residual material.
“It’s the kind of situation where a landowner has sold his timber and then done nothing to the land,” Skip said. “They just let it sit there and let God handle it. The land starts growing up in a lot of brush and bushes and trees, and it’s just a wasted piece of property with no wildlife value and no timber value.”
After a while, when the landowner decides it’s finally time to clean it up and replant it in trees, he has a mess. Under traditional logging systems, the site preparation is expensive — up to a couple hundred dollars per acre.
Lincoln Logging has moved into this niche to provide landowners a service while supplying material for their fuel chipping operations. “We can go in there and do it for much less than a traditional bulldozer operation,” Skip said. “We clean up unusable, unmerchantable tracts of land.”
On average the company is able to produce about one load — around 30 tons — of fuel chips per acre from this kind of land. They average about 10 acres a day, 10 loads a day.
The Bandit chipper normally is set up to blow fuel chips directly into trailer vans. Lincoln Logging owns the vans and most of the trucks, too.
“We do have one contract truck that hauls for us on a chip job,” said Skip, “but most of the trucks we use are company trucks. We had to beef up our entire operation. We were using, for the tree-length job, a shearer, a skidder and a de-limber. We sold the de-limber, but we had to buy another shearer and another skidder, because it takes two cutting machines to keep up with the chipper. And sometimes they still can’t keep up with what we can chip all the time. The cutting is the slow part of the process.”
Kent and Skip have tried following behind other loggers who leave the tops in the woods, and collecting the tops and chipping them. However, they found that most of what was left was only limbs; whatever does not go for saw timber usually is cut for pulpwood.
“That just doesn’t work well unless there are a lot of big hardwood tops,” Skip said. “We’ve also found that even the weather makes a difference. When it’s hot, if the wood lies there for a week, the small stuff really dries out a lot, and we have trouble chipping it. It doesn’t chip well, and it doesn’t blow into the van well.”
Instead of following behind, Kent and Skip often go in before other loggers. They cut the understory and undesirable wood, preparing the tract for an easy timber harvest.
“Plus, we get all the stuff they’re going to run over and leave out here,” Skip said. “We’ve done quite a few of these jobs, where we clear out all the understory and make it look like a big park. Now some of the consulting foresters are begging us to come through and cut ahead of them because they don’t want to crawl through all that thick stuff to mark trees. People really like what we do.”
One obstacle that neither Bandit Industries nor Lincoln Logging anticipated was the wear that these kind of operations would have on the equipment. “Even though Bandit makes an excellent chipper, the trashy wood that we’re chipping is hard on the machine,” Skip said. “We have parts that are wearing out that are normal wear parts, but they are wearing out about twice as fast as they should. Bandit is really working with us to try to figure out why the parts are wearing out so fast, but it’s all coming down to the kind of wood that we’re chipping. It’s hardwood, and it has a lot of dirt in it. And dirt eats up parts on a chipper. It’s all a function of: if you’re going to chip this fuel wood, it’s going to wear a chipper out quickly.”
The solution to the problem isn’t clear yet. Bandit is looking at the possibility of using different types of metal for wear parts to extend part life.
“Right now, we’re just having to replace the parts more often,” Skip said. “Until we get this problem solved, I don’t see us expanding this part of our operation. But once we get this solved, in the future I do believe that you’ll see us expand into other areas besides the two paper mills that we’re servicing.”
Wear in chippers with this quantity of grit is common, noted a spokeswoman for Bandit. That is why some loggers are opting for horizontal grinders, such as the Bandit model 3680 Beast Recycler, which makes an excellent wood fuel product and tolerates grit.
As markets for wood fiber expand, Skip expects to see more operations producing chips for an increasing array of uses. “They’re talking about creating ethanol from chips now,” he said. “I’ve already had a call from someone who wanted me to go in with him on a wood pellet operation. But right now, that main market is in Europe.”
“Things are changing fast,” Skip added, “and I think we’re going to continue to see that. It’s going to be a challenge. We’re still learning a lot about fuel, we’re still learning about the chipper, and we’re still learning what tracts we can and cannot cut. This is a good time to be in the logging business, so I think we have some opportunities, but we also have some challenges to solve.”